The politics of TV war coverage

If it weren't difficult enough to master the technology of reporting combat under the most primitive field conditions, where such gear as the ubiquitous videophone has worked unpredictably at best, reporters covering the American war in Iraq are getting increased vocal scrutiny from congressional viewers back home.

A dozen Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives, led by Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-Fla.), questioned the government's policy of "embedding" reporters with U.S. troops in Iraq. The pro-war forces would like to see media censorship, while those desiring more objective news coverage wonder if reporters under the thumb of the Pentagon will be free to report what actually happens to viewers back home.

Others wonder if the major American television networks, seeking media ownership changes from the FCC, will dare play hardball with an administration that has a heavy hand over the broadcast industry's economic destiny.

The House members complained about a March 10 report by Peter Jennings on ABC's World News Tonight in which he interviewed soldiers with questions the Republicans said were "highly inappropriate," including "hypothetical situations regarding combat, enemy responses and casualties."

The Congressmen wrote to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld asking him to explain how current policies toward the media differ from those of Desert Storm; how "subjecting anxious young troops to questions relating to combat deaths and possible enemy responses serve to foster a better public perception;" and why the media was not being censored.

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