‘I Love Those Guys’

Wall Street Opinion Journal | Jeff Emanuel | May 23, 2007

Embedded journalists in Iraq are having their minds changed left and right by U.S. soldiers.

Operation Iraqi Freedom saw the advent of a practice that revolutionized modern war reporting: the embedding of journalists with frontline combat units in war. This practice gave the media, the American public and the world unprecedented access to the soldiers on the front lines, as well as to the war itself, through the filing of stories, photographs and video from the battlefront in real time, by reporters who were right there with the soldiers doing the fighting. “We were offered an irresistible opportunity: free transportation to the front line of the war, dramatic pictures, dramatic sounds, great quotes,” said Tom Gjelten of National Public Radio. “Who can pass that up?”

While the military also benefited from having an eager outlet for its stories and successes, the biggest result of the embedding process was the shift it caused in the relationship between the military and the media, which laid the groundwork for a fundamental change in the dynamics of war reporting. As Maj. Gen. Buford Blount of the Army’s Third Infantry Division explained, “A level of trust developed between the soldier and the media that offered nearly unlimited access.”

Despite the obvious benefits of embedded reportage, though, the practice has met with its share of (expected) criticism from members of the Fourth Estate. Beginning even before Operation Iraqi Freedom kicked off, media spokesmen and others–such as University of Texas professor Robert Jensen–expressed concern that “embedded reporters would inevitably become too sympathetic to the troops with whom they were traveling.” Theories were put forth that this was a “primary motivation on the part of military planners in designing the embedded system in the first place,” and that the U.S. government was simply taking the approach of “feed the media beast enough stories that cast U.S. troops in the best possible light and the job of managing the media message is all but taken care of.”

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