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A NC Look at Embedded Journalism

UNC-Chapel Hill panel examines pros & cons of Iraq war coverage

Journalists and military experts featured at a recent seminar examining news coverage during the Iraq War questioned the effectiveness and importance of embedded journalism.

Guest speakers at the seminar, sponsored Sept. 12-13 by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, included journalists fresh from the Iraqi desert, military leaders, and journalism professors.

Much of the seminar focused on a critique of war coverage from Vietnam to the first Gulf War to the Iraq War.

Gilbert Baez, a military reporter for ABC-11 Eyewitness News in Fayetteville, said, “The difference between Vietnam and today was three days … it took three days to get the video back, and that made a big difference.”
With three days travel time for any video footage, journalists were forced to be selective. As a result, American viewers at home caught only the bare-bones fighting incumbent in war.

Lorraine Bennett, of CNN International, characterized the footage from the Gulf War as less than informative. “I remember seeing that black and green screen and an occasional bomb burst, and that was it,” she said. But coverage of the war in Iraq gave viewers a deeper look into the depths of battle.

U.S. Marine Lt. Col. Dave Lapan, an architect of the embedded-reporting program implemented in Iraq, said, “The situation was right . . . we knew that we needed to do something to counter Hussein’s propaganda [and] the way you counter this is with the truth.”

The Department of Defense offered more than 700 embedded slots, 10 percent of which had to come from local media. “The intent [in part] of the embedded program was to have the American people see the stories of those 18-, 19-, and 20-year-olds. We were looking for context,” Lapan said.

Donna Leinwand, a war reporter for USA Today who was not embedded with troops, said, “The problem I saw with embedding is that there is no perspective. But the strength is in the incredible detail.” Though the detail may have offered advantages, Leinwand said, “We [journalists] should pay a lot more attention to analyzing” in order to capture the whole story.

With all the focus put upon individual soldiers, many readers and viewers in the United States were left with “just a piece of the pie,” said Nahal Toosi, an embedded reporter with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Lapan mentioned another advantage of imbedded reporting. “The rift between the military and the media [was] repaired, somewhat, by the program,” he said.

Messino is an intern at Carolina Journal.