Embedded reporting during the invasion and occupation of Iraq: how the embedding of journalists affects television news reports.

Author:Pfau, Michael

The practice of embedding journalists in military units has a long history, dating to the Civil War. However, the scope of embedding in Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) has been unprecedented. At the outset of OIF, more than 600 U.S. and foreign journalists reported from aircraft carriers, Special Forces units, infantry, and Marine divisions (McLane, 2004). Before OIF, journalists had never "worked alongside U.S. military un its ... in such numbers [or] in such an organized fashion" (Knickmeyer, 2003, p. 2).

The Pentagon's aggressive and ambitious embedding program was directed by Victoria Clark, a senior spokesperson for Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld at the outset of OIF. She defined the process as "living, eating, moving, in combat with the unit that [the journalist is] attached to" (Department of Defense [DoD] News Transcript, 2003). The DoD's motives for adopting a systematic embedding strategy are not clear. Embedding may have been designed to forcefully preempt misinformation flowing from the Iraqi regime or the Arab press (Brightman, 2003; LaFleur, 2003; Miskin, Rayner, & Lalic, 2003; Purdin & Rutenberg, 2003). Embedding might have been motivated by the sincere desire by DoD officials to showcase U.S. military forces or, as Ms. Clark put it, to let the world "see the U.S. military in a very real and compelling way" (Halonen, 2003, p. 18). The DoD may have wanted to provide access to U.S. and international journalists in order to "facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage of U.S. forces in combat and related operations" (Secretary of Defense, 2003). In an interview with Dick Gordon, from NPR's "The Connection," Bryan Whitman, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, stated that the DoD was working to close the gap between reporters and the media: "An embedded reporter is going to see the good, the bad, and the ugly" (DoD News Transcript, 2003). Or, embedding may have been intended to influence news coverage. It is likely that DoD officials knew of Britain's experience with embedding during the Falklands War against Argentina. Journalists who served alongside British forces during the Falklands War "were completely reliant on the military, not only for access to the battle zone, but for food, shelter, protection, and transmission of their reports" (Miskin et al., 2003, p. 9). Journalists developed "feelings of camaraderie" that may have been responsible for "the favorable coverage of British forces" during the Falkland's campaign (Miskin et al., 2003, pp. 2, 9).

Whatever the motivation, the question is: Did embedding affect news coverage of OIF and, if so, how? Most of the evidence of the effects of embedding is anecdotal, based on the opinions of military leaders and embedded journalists. There are two exceptions. A content analysis of print coverage of the first 5 days of OIF found that embedded reports were more favorable toward the military and its personnel and featured more episodic framing (Pfau et al., 2004), and a content analysis of coverage by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) of the invasion phase of OIF, in conjunction with extensive interviews of British journalists, concluded that although "British broadcasters took care to avoid language that compromised their impartiality," the coverage was favorable toward the government's position on the war and "twice as likely to represent the Iraqi people as welcoming the invasion than as suspicious, reserved, or hostile" (Lewis et al., 2004, p. 25).

There is no definitive evidence about the effects of embedding on U.S. television news reports, and no evidence whatsoever that compares the effects of embedding during the invasion phase of OIF, which most considered a stunning success, versus the occupation/resistance phase of OIF, which has been beset with problems. This investigation examined whether embedding produced television news reports that differed in their tone or structure, and whether the tone or the structure of television news reports varied between the invasion and occupation/resistance phases of OIF or differed across television networks.


Tone of Coverage

Researchers anticipated that embedded coverage would produce television news reports that are more favorable toward the military in general and, specifically, toward its personnel. This expectation stems from the fact that embedded journalists become a part of the unit they are reporting about. Embedded journalists develop relationships with the troops they are covering and they "become fully integrated into military command structures" (Miller, 2004a, p. 10) and, as a result, develop a commitment to the military organization.

Embedded journalists should develop close, personal relationships with the troops they are embedded with. Social penetration theory describes the process of how human relationships develop (Altman & Taylor, 1973). It explains that as relationships unfold, communication shifts from superficial to more personal topics, slowly penetrating the communicators' public personas. As people experience more contact with each other, increased communication manifests greater relational breadth and depth (Taylor, 1979), which over time facilitates more relational intensity and intimacy (Derlega, Metts, Petronio, & Margolis, 1993).

This process usually requires time, but it can accelerate in "hot conditions," which are typical in combat (Soeters, 2000). In these circumstances, the close contact of the journalist and the personnel in the military unit the journalist is assigned to unleashes a spiraling process of increasing self-disclosure (Taylor, 1979), which, in turn, leads to more relational trust (Wheeless & Grotz, 1977), termed "swift trust" in the "hot conditions" of combat (Soeters, 2000). This accelerated bonding is likely whenever uncertainty levels are high and the circumstances are dangerous (Meyerson, Weick, & Kramer, 1995). "Swift trust" can bias people's perceptions (Hensley, 1996) and, in the case of television journalists, who "are part of the professional class, reasonably affluent and well educated," helps them to bridge the "class divide" that would otherwise separate them from enlisted military personnel, who embody a more "working-class" mentality (Cunningham, 2004, p. 2).

The anecdotal evidence supports this expectation. One reporter speculated that "there is a real danger of getting too close to your subject" (Smith, 2003, p. 3). Another journalist warned that journalists may grow "so close to the troops ... that they cannot be impartial" (Overington, 2003, p. 2). Still another journalist commented that embedded reporting of the invasion phase of OIF "seemed like a tape loop of troops and sand that was very sympathetic to the U.S. soldiers and often 'gee-whiz' about military hardware" (Hall, 2004, p. 84). Indeed, there is the possibility that the embedding experience in OIF may have profoundly influenced journalists' values about the military. One journalist who covered both the Vietnam and Iraq wars speculated that "there are now hundreds of journalists in their late 20s who have had a formative and generally positive experience with the U.S. military" (Hall, 2004, p. 83). Hence, this investigation posits that embedded journalists will produce television news reports that are more positive toward the military and its personnel.

[H.sub.1]: Compared to nonembedded coverage, embedded television news reports of combat operations (a) are more positive about the military as a whole, and (b) convey greater trust toward military personnel.

Another reason why embedded new reports should elicit more positive coverage of the military is that embedded journalists should internalize the values of the military unit they are assigned to. Organizational commitment offers an explanatory mechanism for this expectation. Organizational commitment results in acceptance of an organization's culture, which embodies "a pattern of shared basic assumptions that ... [are] taught to new members as a correct way to perceive, think, and feel" (Schein, 1992, p. 12). Organizational commitment elicits adherence to an organization's values (Beyer, Hannah, & Milton, 2000; Pacanowsky & O'Donnell-Trujillo, 1983).

There are three components of organizational commitment: affective, continuance, and normative (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Two of the three, affective and normative commitment, are relevant to the embedding process. Affective commitment relates to an attitude or orientation toward the organization, which links or attaches the identity of the person to the organization (Meyer & Allen, 1997). Embedded reporters who experience the same stresses in combat as military personnel undergo changes in which the goals of the military and those of the reporter become increasingly integrated or congruent. Normative commitment involves a set of attitudes and behaviors that an individual ought to manifest (Allen, 2003). Although reporters' professional loyalties are undoubtedly strong, the embedding experience over time should elicit commitment to the military unit, which will produce a unique set of attitudinal and behavioral expectations. It is likely that embedded journalists, at least partially, internalize the values of the military units they are assigned to.

As organizational commitment grows, people internalize attitudes and adopt behaviors that tie them to the group (Beyer et al., 2000). They become enculturated. Enculturation occurs in all organizations, but its effects are magnified in the military, especially in combat conditions. In combat, "there is a strong need for a so-called collective mind" (Soeters, 2000, p. 475). The survival of the individual and the unit depends in it. Thus, enculturation is accelerated in "hot conditions" such as combat. During combat, embedded journalists and military personnel "eat and drink together" and, in time, "share the same values" (Miller, 2004b, p. 90).

Embedding should increase...

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