The Declining Number of Embedded Reporters in Iraq

Journalists embedded with US troops in Iraq have reached their lowest numbers since the 2003 war began, according to an Oct. 15 Associated Press article. I’m still unclear as to whether this is a good or bad thing. According to the article:

“In the past few weeks, the number of journalists reporting assigned to U.S. military units in Iraq has settled to below two dozen. Late last month, it fell to 11, its lowest, and has rebounded only slightly since.

During the U.S.-led invasion in March 2003, more than 600 reporters, TV crews and photographers linked up with U.S. and British units. A year ago, when Iraqis went to the polls to ratify a new constitution, there were 114 embedded journalists.”

This is a significant drop in embedded reporters in Iraq, and I was curious about the reasons behind it. The article mentioned editors are becoming more reluctant to send reporters to Iraq due to rising costs and the rising number of dead journalists. So with fewer reporters, editors prefer to get a broader story range from them so less reporters are embedded.

Yet, the article also pointed to instances where it was difficult for journalists to become embedded and even more difficult for them to stay there if they write unflattering stories about the troops. I wondered if the drop could also be attributed to the public dissatisfaction with the war and growing weariness at the war’s news stories. Could it also be that Americans are growing dissatisfied with the pro-American troops coverage that embedded journalists seem more likely to write?

Embedding reporters seems to be a temporary solution to getting access with military escorts to dangerous regions. And it gives reporters the opportunity to get an insider view from the perspective of the military. Yet many reporters have complained that their coverage is being controlled by these same escorts who are protecting their lives. According to the article:

“Local commanders have final say on whether to accept an embed. Getting accepted by a commander into a hot spot like Ramadi, Haditha or Tal Afar can be difficult. Commanders must balance the need to inform the public with protecting their own troops.

Embed dispatches are not censored. But journalists must follow rules to protect military secrets, such as plans for upcoming operations. They are subject to being kicked out if the commander finds a story inappropriate, and there is no appeal.

After a story last year that painted an unflattering but accurate picture of violence and conditions in Fallujah, one Marine public affairs officer said he was not approving any more embeds to that city.”

I still don’t know how I feel about embedded reporters. If I was covering the Iraq war, I’d sure as hell want someone with big guns covering me. Yet, I think embedded reporters are only really exposed to one side of the story. And if they dig too deep or say too much, they’re kicked out.

Food for thought…

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