The "I" of embedded reporting: an analysis of CNN coverage of the "Shock and Awe" campaign.

Author:Fox, Julia R.
 
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The practice of embedding reporters with troops during the 2003 Iraq War was both cheered and jeered by professional journalists as well as by media critics and scholars (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; Gralnick, 2003; "How Embedded," 2003; Kalb, 2003; Mitchell & Berman, 2003; Mohl, 2003; Powers, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003; Strupp, 2003; Wycliff, 2003). Some saw embedded reporting as a unique opportunity to provide firsthand reports of the war and considered it a welcome change from the pooled press coverage of the previous Persian Gulf War (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; "How Embedded," 2003; Mitchell & Berman, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003; Strupp, 2003; Wycliff, 2003). But concerns were also expressed that the embedded reporters were not truly independent (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; Gralnick, 2003; "How Embedded," 2003; Kalb, 2003; Mitchell & Berman, 2003). Some mused that embedded reporters may have served more as public relations tools for the military than as independent journalists (Bucy, 2003; Ewers, 2003; Kalb, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003). Others worried that even those journalists intent on being objective would have a difficult time maintaining their objectivity given their physical and likely emotional closeness to their embedded troops (Ewers, 2003; Gralnick, 2003; Mohl, 2003; Ricchiardi, 2003; Wycliff, 2003).

Of particular concern was that embedded journalists' objectivity was jeopardized as they became part of the story (Ricchiardi, 2003). "The hundreds of embedded journalists aren't just reporting on this war; they're serving as surrogates for all civilians. And they've given the story a visceral immediacy, a that-could-be-me feeling" (Powers, 2003, p. 932). Ricchiardi noted reporters' references to themselves during the early stages of the war: "Breathless television reporters often made themselves the story" (p. 30).

Objectivity as a Journalistic Norm

Objective reporting is characterized as being neutral, unbiased, and balanced ("Code of Ethics," n.d.; Fedler, 1998; Gallagher, 1998; Sigal, 1986; Ward, 1999), and void of personal ideology and values ("Code of Ethics," n.d.; Gans, 1980; Sigal, 1986), opinions (Tuchman, 1972), and impressions (Schudson, 1995). Journalistic objectivity is a professional norm (Breed, 1955; "Code of Ethics," n.d.) seen by journalists as both an individual responsibility of the reporter and a collective responsibility of the profession (Breed, 1955; Gans, 1980; Schudson, 1995). News professionals say they strive to be objective in their reporting (Efron, 1972; Gallagher, 1998; Gans, 1980; Herman & Chomsky, 1988; Schudson, 1995).

This, of course, has not always been the case. The press used to be partisan, often fiercely so (Baldasty, 1998; Gans, 1980). Objective reporting became a standard practice of journalism in the mid-19th century (Gallagher, 1998; Schudson, 1978, 1995), in part because it proved to be economically successful (Gallagher, 1998), particularly as it appealed to advertisers who wanted to reach a larger audience than a partisan press would allow (Baldasty, 1998). In addition, the Associated Press formed during this time when a group of New York newspapers joined to share the costs of telegraph reports (Schwarzlose, 1998a, 1998b; Sterling & Kittross, 2002). Objective content was more suitable for those shared reports, given the diverse partisan views of the different newspapers in the association (Gans, 1980).

Since that time, news professionals have come to adopt objectivity as an essential component of sound reporting. Objectivity is considered to be one of the most important news values, at the very core of journalistic credibility (Fedler, 1998; Gallagher, 1998; Gans, 1980; Ricchiardi, 2003). "If journalists were not viewed as being objective, every story could be criticized as resulting from one or another journalistic bias" (Gans, 1980, p. 187). Indeed, a recent national survey found more than two thirds of the respondents said they prefer to get news from sources without a particular point of view, compared to only a quarter of the respondents who said they prefer to get news from a source that shares their political viewpoint ("Cable and Internet," 2004). Similarly, Jensen (1986) found audiences' perceived the function of television news was to relay "a factual or simply real account of the world" (p. 287). As Herman and Chomsky (1988) noted: "Perhaps this is an obvious point, but the democratic postulate is that the media are independent and committed to discovering and reporting the truth" (p. xi).

Objective journalism is characterized by impersonal gathering and reporting of information (Tuchman, 1972). Objective news writing style is third-person impersonal rather than first-person personal in order to keep reporters' values and interpretations out of the story (Sigal, 1986). As Sigal noted: "The convention of objectivity dictates that in writing a story the reporter leave himself out of his account--that neither his person nor his point of view intrude conspicuously" (p. 26).

Presumably, objective reporting should refrain from using the personal pronouns I and we (nominative), me and us (objective), and my/mine and our/ours (possessive), as the use of I makes the speaker, in this case the reporter, the subject of the story. As Benveniste (1971) noted in his now classic analysis of I, speakers use the third person when "they refer not to themselves but to an 'objective' situation" (p. 221). In contrast, "it is by identifying himself as a unique person pronouncing I that each speaker sets himself up in turn as the 'subject'" (p. 220). In "The 'I' of Discourse," Urban (1989) similarly noted that personal pronouns, such as the indexical referential I to refer to one's actual self, "make possible an expression of 'subjectivity'" (p. 29). Furthermore, Urban (1989), as well as Stromberg (2000) in his article "The 'I' of Enthrallment," noted that in narrative the use of I by the narrator often refers to a character in the story. In the case of news narrative, then, the use of I by a reporter as narrator of the story would refer to himself or herself as a central actor in the story.

This would seem to run counter to the expectation that objective reporters should be personally detached from news stories (Gans, 1980; Schudson, 1995; Sigal, 1986; Tuchman, 1972). "When journalists are doing their jobs, according to journalists' own professed ideals of objectivity, they are on the sidelines--the transcribers, perhaps the watchdogs, but not the central actors, of society's dramas" (Schudson, 1995, p. 152). Similarly, Ricchiardi (2003) noted: "Journalists have long treasured their roles as outside observers and endeavored not to become 'part of the story'" (p. 34). But, as previously quoted, Ricchiardi criticized embedded reporters for inserting themselves into the story, anecdotally noting embedded journalists' frequent use of pronouns such as me and we in their reports.

This study compares the use of such pronouns in embedded and nonembedded reports during CNN's coverage of what the Pentagon referred to as a "Shock and Awe" campaign in Iraq (Espo, 2003, p. 1). If Ricciardi's (2003) anecdotal observations are correct, then a systematic, quantitative analysis comparing the use of personal pronouns by embedded and nonembedded journalists would likely find more frequent use of the first-person singular pronoun by embedded reporters, as an indication that they are part of the story. Thus, this study predicts:

[H.sub.1]: Embedded journalists will use the first-person singular pronoun in its various forms--I (nominative), me (objective), and my/mine (possessive)--more often than nonembedded reporters.

The use of the personal pronoun we is also considered subjective, rather than objective (Johnson, 2003; Mason, 2000). For example, in noting how sports reporting often runs counter to traditional journalistic values, such as objectivity, Mason specifically noted the use of the inclusive pronoun we in sports writing, which he referred to as "an uncomfortable mix of marketing, patriotism, populist identification and 'me-too-ism' which infects and overwhelms the sports pages, radio and especially television" ([paragraph] 14). More on point to the focus of this investigation, television critic Steve Johnson specifically discussed the use of us and our by journalists as indications of subjective news coverage of the Iraq War. Therefore, similar to the first hypothesis, this study predicts:

[H.sub.2]: Embedded journalists will use the inclusive pronoun in its various forms--we (nominative), us (objective), and our/ours (possessive)--more often than nonembedded reporters.

To this point, the discussion has focused on the reporter's objectivity as indexed through the reporter's use of personal pronouns. However, another indication that the reporter has become part of the story could be the use of the pronoun you by others to refer to the reporter. If embedded reporters are more likely than nonembedded reporters to be placed in the story, this may be exemplified by a more frequent use of the pronoun you by others to refer to the embedded reporters. Thus, this study predicts:

[H.sub.3]: Embedded journalists will be referred to by others with the personal pronoun you (nominative and objective) and your/yours (possessive) more often than nonembedded journalists.

Reconceptualizing Objectivity

Many professional journalistic activities and procedures, such as quoting sources rather than offering the reporter's own opinions, are designed to promote objectivity; these activities are considered part of journalists' routine, even when reporting on unexpected events (Tuchman, 1972). Such organizational rules and activities frame the expectations of a given social role or function (Goffman, 1986). For journalists, the traditional expectation of objectivity is that they be detached from their reporting...

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