Rather on “embedded” reporting

Picture of Lance Cpl. James Blake Miller smoking a cigarette in Fallujah, Iraq, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2004 made famous by CBS Evening News with Dan Rather.  (AP/L.A. Times, Luis Sinco)Noted American newsman Dan Rather says there are both positives and negatives for reporters who are embedded with the U.S. military in a war zone.

Rather, who for many years was the anchorman for a major U.S. television network’s evening newscast, told USINFO September 6 that the embedded reporting program came to full fruition in the current Iraq war.

He defined embedded reporting as involving a journalist who is “officially approved” to be with a specific military unit for a specific amount of time. “Embedded reporters are not subject to censorship,” said Rather, who now is the global correspondent, managing editor and anchorman for the HDNET national cable television network and a syndicated columnist.

Rather said the embedded journalist program could be considerably improved both for the benefit of the public who need to be informed on events occurring in a war zone and for the military, even while I recognize that some military people might disagree with that latter point. “Embedded journalists,” he said, “could be given better access and mobility to gain a better overall perspective of events occurring in the battle zone.”

The newsman said he has been on assignment in Iraq about nine times, including during the initial invasion of Baghdad in 2003, and has seen some improvements in how journalists are allowed to cover the war. Rather said military commanders with confidence that a journalist is an honest broker of information will arrange ad hoc for reporters to go where they want to go to cover a potential newsworthy event.

Rather, whose 57-year journalism career includes serving as the CBS television network’s correspondent covering the Vietnam War and then the White House, said allowing reporters freedom to travel unimpeded from one combat zone to another is much preferable to being embedded with a military unit, subject to going where that unit travels.

”When a unit moves, [the embedded reporter] moves, ” Rather said. But he added that being embedded is better than not being allowed any access to the combat zone.

Rather said that when he was Vietnam War correspondent, you covered anything you could get to. He, like other reporters, hung around a helicopter pad, airstrip or airbase where, if space was available, the journalist would be allowed on board a military aircraft. After arriving at a conflict zone, you were on your own with reporters needing to be self-contained in providing their own water canteens, blood-stopping equipment and food, Rather said.

Vietnam, Rather emphasized, was a different era, time and war from Iraq, and under no circumstances did he consider himself an embedded reporter during that conflict.

Rather said he recognizes that some observers would consider embedded reporting to have occurred during the 1991 Gulf War. But, he says that journalists during that war still hitchhiked and made their own arrangements for covering a story.

”The U.S. Defense Department started an embedded reporting program to help improve access for reporters while keeping control of what journalists could see of U.S. military operations, ” said Rather. ”Being an embedded reporter also means a journalist has official accreditation, with the unassailable right to be in a particular area with the military, ” he said.

”That’s one of the advantages to being embedded, ” said Rather.

Reports say the American military decided to embed journalists with troops in Iraq following complaints from the news media about the lack of access during the 1991 Gulf War and in the 2001 U.S.-led multinational invasion of Afghanistan. Allowing the media more access also helps the military tell its story about a war, he said.

Rather said that in World War II, legendary U.S. reporters such as Ernie Pyle, Edward R. Murrow and Charles Collingwood wore the uniform of the U.S. military and were given privileges equivalent to the rank of major. They also were subject to military oversight. ”The military could censor the reporters dispatches, but only under special circumstances, ” said Rather.

”I would not consider Ernie Pyle to have been an embedded reporter and if he were alive today he would not consider himself as such, ” said Rather. He said that if Pyle asked to go somewhere for an assignment, the military would try to accommodate him. ”Pyle had the freedom to move where he wanted, ” Rather said.

Rather said he has particular respect for captains and sergeants of the U.S. military, ”who in my opinion are the backbone of anyone’s fighting force. ”

”These military people, ” Rather said, ”have a commitment both to the idea and ideal of press freedom and for getting the truth, as far as anybody can establish it, out unvarnished to the public. ”

Source: Press Release US Dept of State

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