Centers Sponsor Media Conference on Iraq War Coverage
|Evan Thomas '77, assistant managing editor of Newsweek, said eben with reporters embedded in military unitesm we'll see the "same old skits" between military briefers and reporters at press conferences.|
The Iraq War now has reporters living with armed forces units as the military returns to a media policy it felt burned by in Vietnam. Reporters, editors, commanders, and lawyers hashed out the ramifications of having "embedded" reporters on the front lines as well as "pooled" at headquarters, along with other longstanding tensions between the press and the Pentagon at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., during a January 16 conference jointly sponsored by the Law School's Center for National Security Law and the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression. Professors John Norton Moore and Robert O'Neil moderated panels that examined "The Media and the War for the 'Fourth Freedom:' Covering the War on Terror."
The Pentagon is "planning to provide
the media the greatest possible access to our troops," said
Bryan Whitman, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs for
the Department of Defense. "This is the way the media tell
us it wants to cover war."
"It's going to be quite different," acknowledged Evan Thomas '77, assistant managing editor of Newsweek. "The general perception in the Gulf War was that the press was kept away from the front line. The third largest tank battle in history took place and there are no images of it. The press wants people in the tanks. The military has now heard the clamor and whining of journalists. The perception in Vietnam was that the press got too close. The military felt stabbed in the back by the coverage, which they saw as sensationalistic. Now the pendulum is swinging the other way."
"The military has done a better job
of training reporters to go along with the troops," added
Doyle MacManus, Washington bureau chief for The Los Angeles
Times. "But one concern I have is that we have not had
a long enough dialogue on what the rules will be on the ground.
I think we will have more collisions than we need to have."
Tom Bowman, Pentagon correspondent for The Baltimore Sun, also approved of the embedding policy.
"Reporters shouldn't just be hanging out at headquarters.
The book on the media in the Gulf War was called Hotel Warriors.
That says it all. The tragedy of the first four days of the Gulf
War was that no reporters were with the troops. Those events are
lost to history. It's important for the American people to know
what their soldiers are doing in their name." He faulted
media organizations for assigning too many reporters who normally
cover non-military beats to war coverage, saying they "clogged
up" the Pentagon's media services with ignorant questions
Whitman said special training for reporters last month at Quantico marine base in Virginia was designed to give them survival skills so they would not endanger themselves or their [host] units. Media organizations have given him positive responses to the programs and two more sessions are planned that will train a total of 240 reporters. Embedded reporters would not be given weapons training and will dress differently than soldiers so that they can be distinguished in case they are captured. Questions were raised about the likely impartiality of reporters covering men they are living with who are, in fact, protecting them.
"We worry about reporter casualties.
Battlefields are very dangerous places," said Whitman, "even
more so if you're out there looking for engagements." Embedding
is an attempt to stop reporters from freelancing and becoming
potential targets because they can't be properly identified soon
enough. In Afghanistan, Whitman noted, American soldiers couldn't
be sure if four-wheel-drive vehicles with armed men inside were
al Qaeda or western news crews with local drivers and bodyguards.
Responding to Thomas' comment fearing
delays in getting dispatches out from reporter pools, Whitman
said the Pentagon knows that technology allows news organizations
to transmit their "products" without assistance from
the military. "The Pentagon will allow reporters to use the
equipment they are used to. Some information can't be released
until later because of it is potential value to the enemy. But
I have never met a reporter who would jeopardize a mission."
"Especially if he is with the unit,"
chimed in Bowman, "I don't want to get killed."