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ON POINT II: Transition to the New Campaign

The United States Army in Operation IRAQI FREEDOM May 2003-January 2005

Part II

Transition to a New Campaign

Chapter 7
Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq


Criticisms of Embedding and the “Embed Effect”

Most media organizations and journalists were also satisfied with the results of the embedded program, but some journalists voiced concerns about their embedded experience. The majority of the criticisms focused on two issues: narrow reporting and objectivity. While both issues received extensive coverage inside the media, neither issue had much resonance with Soldiers serving in OIF. Although embeds were hugely successful in providing accurate and detailed reports of the units to which they were attached, their reports obviously focused on single units and isolated events in time. Phil Bronstein, editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, discerned other related problems with perspective, stating, “You’re going to have the famous fog of war. If you’re in a unit, you’ll get to see combat in that particular moment in that square mile of the world. But we don’t have any mechanism for seeing the larger picture.”96 Paul Slavin, executive producer of ABC’s World News Tonight, offered a useful metaphor that described the media’s concerns about embed reporting: “We were looking at the battlefield through 600 straws. It was difficult to contextualize it.”97 Certainly, embedded reports lacked a comprehensive view of the OIF campaign from the strategic and operational levels.

Some reporters feared that by embedding with Army units they would appear “too close” to Soldiers and therefore lose their reputation for impartiality. Amy Schlesing warned that as a reporter “you could never think of yourself as one of them and never think of yourself as fighting that war because you are not. . . . You are writing for your readers at home and it is vital to remain objective.” Schlesing continued, “I guess my gauge was if I ever wondered if I should write a story because of what these Soldiers would think, then, I needed to go home.”98 Los Angeles Times reporter John Hendren saw how easily reporters could be influenced. “When you’re living in tents with these guys and eating what they eat and cleaning the dirt off the glasses, it’s a whole different experience. You definitely have a concern about knowing people so well that you sympathize with them.”99

These criticisms have some merit. That embedded journalists saw only a narrow view of a story is an accurate characterization of much of the embed reporting in OIF. The reverse, however, is also true. Reporting from the safety of a rear headquarters or the center of Baghdad can lead to a distorted and filtered view of complex events in the rest of the country. The concept that comprehensive understanding of any military issue requires multiple sources and sound analysis is hardly a “journalistic revelation,” or an excuse to avoid embedded journalism. The often-expressed media fear of losing one’s impartiality struck many Soldiers and a good number of Americans as misplaced. Accurate and timely reporting need not be considered biased merely because it was positive and supported US policy objectives, or because journalists came to understand the Soldiers with whom they lived and who protected them from danger.

Chapter 7. Fighting the Battle of Ideas in Iraq

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