- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 9, 2003

In bed or embedded?
A few hard questions are being asked within the news industry about the propriety of having reporters "embedded" with the U.S. military to cover the anticipated war with Iraq.
So far, more than 600 reporters about 20 percent of them representing foreign news outfits have been assigned slots with military units ranging from front-line combat forces to aircraft carriers and air bases, according to Maj. Tim Blair, the Pentagon official coordinating the effort.
Most of them have undergone a weeklong training course designed to familiarize them with the risks and conditions they are likely to face in the field and, insofar as possible, ensure they do not slow down or impede the troops in combat.
"The access will be on a level that has not been seen before," Maj. Blair said this week. "We want people to see the hard work our service members are doing on the ground."
The program, which puts far more reporters on the front line than the pool system employed in the 1991 Persian Gulf war, has the additional advantage of enabling reporters to debunk any false propaganda charges of American atrocities in combat. Even Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based Arabic-language broadcaster that has become the prime outlet for Osama bin Laden's rants, has signed up for the plan.
For a lot of smaller news organizations, the program has the additional appeal of being the cheapest possible way to have one's own reporter cover the war.
"We are feeding you, transporting you, providing you with chemical suits and protective masks," said Maj. Blair. About the only cost incurred by a news organization is getting its reporter to the rendezvous with the assigned unit.
Some news professionals wonder whether the embedded reporters will be too close to the soldiers, somehow compromising their ability to report objectively on the war. There are also concerns about the potential for censorship, and questions of access for reporters who find themselves too far from the action.
These questions are debated in the current issue of Editor & Publisher, the leading trade publication of the news industry. But most editors interviewed for the article said they were comfortable with the plan.
I agree.
Trials and triumphs
I would have grave reservations if we were to rely entirely on an embedded reporter for our coverage of the war, because it will indeed be very hard for these men and women to maintain their objectivity when coming under fire along with the troops.
But our plan is to write our main war roundups based on what we can glean from official briefings at the Pentagon and at the armed forces headquarters in Doha, Qatar, from wire agency reports coming from Baghdad and other regional centers, and from a network of free-lance correspondents spread out around the Middle East.
In addition, we have a reporter and photographer in the region but outside the military program, with the freedom of movement that, we hope, will allow them to independently follow the troops north from Kuwait into Iraq.
What we hope to receive from our reporter Guy Taylor, who is already embedded with 4th Infantry Division, are color sidebars that will supplement our coverage by describing the trials and triumphs of the individual soldiers.
Mr. Taylor is currently stuck at a hotel outside Fort Hood in Killeen, Texas, waiting along with the rest of the 4th ID to find out whether they will be permitted into Turkey to attack Iraq from the north.
He and about 25 other journalists have been going through processing, Mr. Taylor reported in an e-mail this week, "basically signing forms, including one long one about media ground rules once on the battlefield. Additionally, we were issued our new gas masks and nuclear, biological and chemical gear."
There have been briefings and four hours of training with the gas masks and chemical suits in a simulated attack environment, Mr. Taylor reports.
"The 4th ID was mobilized for deployment on or about Jan. 20. They're still here. And, with their equipment sitting on ships in the Mediterranean outside the Turkish port of Iskenderun, the 'waiting game' for individual soldiers and commanders is a taxing one," he wrote.
That's one more thing that Mr. Taylor and his editors are sharing with the troops.
David W. Jones is the foreign editor of The Washington Times. His e-mail address is djones@washingtontimes.com.

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