Embedded journalists offer public service
By By Buddy Bynum / editor
April 20, 2003
Not many journalists face the life-threatening, front-line dangers of war as did the 400 or so reporters who were embedded with the U.S. military and coalition forces in Iraq and Kuwait.
For journalists living with the troops and filing reports from under fire, the daily job of delivering news came at far greater personal and, in some cases, professional risk. Questions of ethics can and do emerge.
Is a reporter's reporting unduly influenced by the fact that he or she is essentially living with the troops, eating the same food and exposed to similar dangers? Does such closeness breed bias?
A question on what I thought of the war coverage was posed by Capt. Jeff Dickman at lunch last week after a tour of Naval Air Station Meridian with board members of the Meridian Navy League. It was a good question from an astute military professional.
I said embedding journalists with the sailors and soldiers was a brilliant approach. Not only did they get an up close and personal look at the unfolding military mission, they also got to know front line troops personally. Reporters sent back so many stories to readers and viewers back home so that, in some cases, I began to feel as if I also knew them all.
As a consumer of the reporters' product, I began to feel the troops' frustrations, anxieties, exuberation and physical exhaustion. And, because I felt I knew them, I wanted their missions to succeed. I shared the tense moments of war, albeit from a far distance, the horror of death and uncertainty of capture.
Americans have seen Operation Iraqi Freedom largely through the eyes of embedded journalists and it was a good thing. I had no problem with the nature of the coverage and no ethical problems with the idea of embedding journalists.
At the same time, the 24/7, wall-to-wall coverage of the war, especially after its earliest days, became almost overwhelming, even to me as a avid consumer of news. I wanted more perspective and when the networks rolled out retired military officers who could provide analysis, I was delighted.
I think coverage of the war in Iraq accurately reflected the military power of the U.S. and our country's willingness to engage enemies of freedom, even in war, with as much compassion as humanly possible for civilians.
I think American journalists should be Americans first and I mean that in the finest sense of the First Amendment's guarantees of freedom of speech, freedom of religion and freedom of the press. Both support for and dissent from governmental decisions should be cherished, not condemned. The truth should not be the first casualty of war and in this case I think the truth was well told.
Europeans and Arab journalists apparently had some problems with the manner in which American reporters did their jobs. American newspapers and networks had the good judgment not to show much of the most graphic human destruction in warfare.
Most embedded journalists did an outstanding job of accurate reporting and I salute them for it.
It is, after all, a world of instant communications where the business of communicating assumes grave importance. Journalism is practiced in real time, often without the benefit of perspective. News should just be told as it is and the editorial judgments can come later.
Journalism was always an appealing profession to me. As strange as it may seem, I like the long workdays, uncertain schedules, the reporting and editing challenges presenting by breaking news and the opportunity to express my own views in columns like this one. It's the nature of the business.
As I mentioned to Capt. Dickman, my uncle, Seaman James McLaurin Harrison, was killed when Japanese torpedoes sunk the USS Indianapolis in World War II. I've always respected front line servicemen and servicewomen for their sacrifices.
Now, I have a renewed respect for the vast majority of working journalists who went to the Middle East in pursuit of a major news story. Their words, still photos and television images have been sensational.