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Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion | The Nation

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Greg Mitchell

Greg Mitchell

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Eleven Years Ago: Questions Arise About ‘Embedded’ Media Coverage of Our Iraq Invasion

Iraq

A US Marine takes cover behind an Iraqi Army humvee in Amarah, southeast of Baghdad, June 19, 2008 (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

The dangers were there from the start—and the results have been well chronicled since. But how did the media cover questions about its "embedded" coverage of the Iraq war near the start? 

As you'll recall, reporters and camera folks were allowed for the first time to sign up and travel fully with our invading (and later occupying) forces. This allowed valuable close hand reporting—although with various censorship restrictions. It also produced coverage that was, shall we say, often influenced by identifying with the troops and the mission a bit too much. Often we heard "we" are doing this or that as reporters sent along for the Jeep and Humvee rides. 

I was the editor of Editor & Publisher then and we raised many questions about the dangers of this from the start, with Joe Galloway, Sydney Schanberg and others sounding alarms.  We interviewed Chris Hedges, the longtime war reporter, three different times about this, and he accurately predicted the course of the invasion and aftermath and how many reporters, allowed to only see what their "minders" would allow, would misinterpret the quick victory.  But few others did the same.

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Here's the first New York Times report from eleven years ago that started to look at the issues, with quotes from Michael Kelly of The Atlantic, left (who would die there) and critic Todd Giltin and others. My new book on Iraq and the media covers this issue at length. It's worth remembering that the late Anthony Shadid did his greatest work there as an independent, not embedded, reporter.  Ditto for so many in the Baghdad bureau of Knight Ridder (later McClatchy).

From that New York Times story:

Bryan G. Whitman, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for media relations, is in charge of making the strategy work.

''We realized early on that our adversary was a practiced liar,'' Mr. Whitman said. ''What better way to mitigate the lies and deception of Saddam Hussein than having trained, objective observers out there in the field?''

Some critics have suggested that it has been difficult to tell journalists and military personnel apart.

''I am discouraged by reporters' willingness to swallow most of what is being told to them,'' said Todd Gitlin, a professor of journalism and sociology at Columbia University. ''How can they keep referring to 'coalition forces' as if there were actually some sort of coalition?''

And:

Jim Dwyer of The New York Times calls the arrangement ''professionally treacherous.''

''You are sleeping next to people you are covering,'' Mr. Dwyer said by satellite phone from his position with the 101st Airborne Division in central Iraq. ''Your survival is based on them. And they are glad we are here because no one would believe what is happening to them if they just came back and told war stories. People are willing to talk around the clock until it is time to go out and kill people. That is a very deep thing.''

And who can forget Geraldo Rivera getting booted out of Iraq for sketching troop locations in the sand.

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