Study finds embedding journalists with troops during invasion a success

Embedding journalists with U.S. troops during the invasion of Iraq in 2003 proved to serve the interests of the press, the public and the military, according to a new RAND study, “Reporters on the Battlefield: The Embedded Press System in Historical Context.”

Among the reports conclusions:

  • Embedding journalists with troops will be a model for the future. But the embedding program could create tensions between the press and the military in future combat operations if U.S. military forces should suffer serious setbacks or heavy casualties.
  • News media worries that reporters would become biased toward the troops in their assigned units proved unfounded. Journalism groups found embedded reporters coverage “of reasonably high quality.”
  • Moving reporters with combat units will continue to feed the trend toward constant live and unfiltered news on cable television, with all its shortcomings and confusion. It is unclear if such live coverage best serves the public interest.
  • Operational security in Iraq was generally intact and protected far more than it was violated by embedded journalists. Fewer than a half-dozen reporters were pulled out of the field for security violations.

More than 2200 reporters and camera crews from the United States and other nations covered the war. About 600 participated in the embedding program. More than 1400 unilaterals chose to cover the war on their own. Four embedded news reporters died during the major combat operations. Nine journalists covering the war on their own perished.

The Pentagon should give unilateral reporters credentials so that troops recognize them as legitimate reporters and not as second-class journalists, the report said. The conduct of press-military relations during the Iraq war shows that “the Pentagon has finally overcome the knee-jerk distrust of news media coverage that has influenced so much of press-military relations since Vietnam,” said Christopher Paul, author of the report.

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