Number of embedded journalists drops to lowest levels of Iraq war

Number of embedded journalists drops to lowest levels of Iraq war
October 16th, 2006  
Team Infidel

Topic: Number of embedded journalists drops to lowest levels of Iraq war

Number of embedded journalists drops to lowest levels of Iraq war
Media: The Associated Press
Date: 16 October 2006

BAGHDAD, Iraq_The number of embedded journalists reporting alongside U.S.
troops in Iraq has dropped to its lowest level of the war even as the
conflict heats up on the streets of Baghdad and in the U.S. political

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 more than pathetic," said Sig Christenson, a reporter for the San
Antonio Express-News and president of Military Reporters and Editors, a
journalists' group. "It strikes me as dangerous" for the American public to
get so little news of their military, said Christenson, who recently
returned from an embedded assignment in Iraq.

Some journalists blame the decline on Pentagon bureaucracy, the reporting
restrictions journalists face, and pressure by some commanders to avoid
"negative" coverage. Both journalists and U.S. military officers point to
declining interest in the long-running story, and the high cost, both in
money and danger, of coverage.

Christopher Paul, a social scientist at the RAND Corporation, said it was
natural for the numbers of embeds to drop after the invasion, because when
they could safely travel on their own journalists prefer "to act in a
unilateral capacity" and pursue stories without military restrictions.

However, after the initial post-invasion lull the war picked up again _ but
not the number of embeds.

According to the United Nations, at least 6,599 Iraqi civilians were killed
in July and August _ a record high. U.S. troop levels have risen above
140,000, and September was the second deadliest month of the year for
American service members. The war has emerged as the key issue in next
month's U.S. midterm elections.

Yet in recent months no more than 25 journalists have been embedded with the
U.S. military in Iraq.

"This is a canary in the coal mines statistic," said Josh Friedman, director
of international programs at Columbia University's School of Journalism,
about the decrease. "The statistic actually tells us much more about the
investment the media is making in covering the war. It's off the front

The figures on embeds do not provide a complete picture of American and
other foreign news coverage in Iraq. Major U.S. news organizations,
including The Associated Press, maintain multinational staffs including
American reporters in offices in Baghdad, as well as part-time Iraqi
correspondents in other cities.

But travel inside Iraq is severely hampered for Western reporters because of
security, and the most effective way to cover U.S. military activities is to
join American units, either as a long-term embed or on escorted day trips
arranged by military press officers.

Lt. Col. Barry Johnson, director of the coalition media center, said there
are less media overall in Iraq, where security needs have driven up costs.

"It is expensive and bureaus have downsized their operations. So they don't
have enough people, often, to leave the bureaus" to embed with troops.

The Associated Press and other major news organizations with offices in
Baghdad do still send journalists on frequent embeds.

"It is an important tool for us in covering this conflict," said AP
International Editor John Daniszewski. "It is vital to get a firsthand look
at the activities of American forces on a regular basis, to report on their
interactions with Iraqis, and to assess the state of fighting in places
where it would otherwise be difficult to travel."

The RAND corporation's Paul pointed out, however, that as staff levels fall,
editors must decide how to get the most out of the reporters that remain in
Iraq. As a rule, "fewer will be embedded, so they can cover the broad range
of stories," he said.

Christenson, who has embedded with U.S. units four times since the 2003
invasion, describes the embed program as "broken" and says both the military
and editors are to blame. Danger and cost are the major factors.

"You can start with the fact that editors are damned nervous about sending
their reporters into Baghdad," Christenson wrote in his blog. "But getting
to Baghdad is the main problem. Almost four years after the Pentagon
unveiled the embedding program, there's no clear-cut way to cover the troops
in Iraq."

The embedding process begins with multiple e-mails to the U.S. press office
and to individual military commands asking for permission to embed. If a
commander agrees, more correspondence is needed to get aboard a U.S.
military flight.

An alternative is to fly commercially to Baghdad. But roundtrip airfare from
the United States begins at about US$2,000 (?1,600). Once at the Baghdad
airport, journalists often need costly security teams with armored cars to
bring them into the city.

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.

In another case, Associated Press correspondent Todd Pitman, who reported
this year from Ramadi, said he was ordered by a colonel to pack his bags
after writing about tricks that insurgents use.

"One of the colonel's intelligence advisers advised him that I hadn't given
away anything the insurgents didn't already know, so the colonel changed his
mind and let me stay," Pitman said.

Antonio Castaneda, who reported from 30 Marine and Army battalions over an
18-month assignment for the AP, had a similar experience. He wrote in April
about families fleeing violence in Dora, a Baghdad neighborhood where
Sunni-Shiite tension runs high.

"The day after the Dora story was printed, I was visited by a soldier who
delivered the message that my coverage was disproportionately negative,"
Castaneda said.

Castaneda's requests for more embeds in the Baghdad area were ignored until
a senior U.S. officer interceded. On his next assignment, Castaneda quoted
an Army captain as saying radical Shiite leader Muqtada al-Sadr appeared
more popular than Iraqi authorities in one Shiite neighborhood.

He later learned that the captain had been reprimanded for the remark.

Dexter Filkins, a reporter for The New York Times who was last embedded in
July, said he did not think the military was solely to blame for the
decrease in embeds although he knew of cases where reporters were turned

Filkins, who has been embedded about 10 times for a couple of weeks each
time, knows that the military "is not unmindful" of what he writes. He said
they are quick to express disapproval of reports they don't like. Still, he
said, "I've never been restrained in any way, whether by the military or by
myself, in what I've written."

Castaneda said he still found many officers frank and open. "I've met
commanders, many in the Marine Corps, who realize the value in keeping the
public well informed about both the progress and setbacks in the war," he

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