In a world where everyone cannot help themselves for being curious of whatever is happening around them, the existence of media is significantly crucial. Not only that people have become more and more dependent for the media to provide them with information from time to time, but also in the sense that media now plays a very pivotal role to shape the public perception of pretty much everything, even during the times of war and conflict. This paper criticizes the involvement of global media through embedded journalism during the United States invasion in Iraq from 2003 to 2011 in order to answer the ultimate question: was the media still telling the truth as it is supposed to or had it become merely a means of propaganda for the military to justify and help them win the war by controlling the public perception?
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The world that we know today is not the world that it was once. Ever since the September 11 tragedy happened back then in 2001, the world has gone through a lot of dramatic changes. With the Al-Qaeda terror group in mind as the perpetrator behind the attack, George Walker Bush—then US president—immediately declared the War on Terror as his boldest yet defining policy for the world, not just the United States. Following his campaign of the War on Terror, Bush created several allegations (Bush 2002) that the Al-Qaeda was receiving assistance from then Iraqi president, Saddam Hussein, to attack the United States while also allegedly conspiring to develop weapons of mass destruction.
Only months following his allegations, Bush took the world by surprise when the United States, under his reign as the commander in chief, invaded Iraq in 19 March 2003. While some people argue that the invasion was merely an act to camouflage its original intentions to occupy and take control of the oil-rich mining fields that Iraq is highly reputable for, some others believe that the invasion was actually the aftermath of Bush’ suspicions of the Iraqi involvement on the 9/11 tragedy. Though, as of now, neither the involvement of Iraqi government nor the weapons of mass destruction existence has ever been proven to be true at all.
One way or another, no matter what the true intentions behind the invasion were, the damage was already done. What appears to be even more interesting than the war itself at the moment was how the media responded so enthusiastically to the war, as if they had been waiting for it to happen. It was not until that time that the term “wartime journalism” was widely used and recognized by people all around the world. It was not until that time the media finally had the chance to define what the world was, is, and will be.
During the war in Iraq, it was rather common to see media workers sent to report information directly from the war zone. Journalists competed to acquire information that would get their audience or readers excited the most; hunting for the piece of information that was labeled as exclusive, the first-ever, and revolutionary; for which the global media struggled to keep the balance between their war coverage and censorship (Tuosto 2008, p. 21).
An estimation made by the Committee to Protect Journalists, which aims to defend the rights and safety of journalists worldwide, shows that at least 150 journalists as well as 54 media support workers were killed (Smyth 2013) during the US 8-year invasion in Iraq from March 2003 to December 2011. While this high number of casualties shows one edge of journalism that is not usually seen, it raises a new question: was it so important to gather the news directly from the war zone that, all of the sudden, journalism apparently became one of the most dangerous jobs in the history of mankind?
While there are many ways to see it, there is only one thing that was certain at the moment; that the media needed to revitalize their methods of acquiring information during the times of war to ensure the safety of their journalists and reporters. As it was hard to be granted the access to enter a war zone, the practice of embedded journalism was introduced by the US military to the media; creating a cooperation that has since been dubbed as the media-military relationship.
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Embedded journalism refers to the practice of gathering news and information by media workers who are attached or embedded to military units involved in the invasion. It was reported that at least 775 reporters and photographers were travelling in Iraq as embedded journalists only on the first few days of the invasion (Powell 2004). As part of the arrangement, embedded journalists were obliged not to report information that could compromise the unit position, future missions, classified weapons, and information that can endanger the safety of the military units (Lehrer 2003). To be eligible, all journalists embedded in Iraq were even specially trained—from November 2002, months before the invasion started—in order to make sure that those who were going to report from the war zone would not be a liability for the military units (Borger 2002). Even though it has always been debated by interdisciplinary scholars and experts as highly dangerous for both the journalists and soldiers, embedded journalism has since become a breakthrough in the practice of journalism.
While the media appeared to be very keen to provide people with information from the war zone in Iraq, the naked reality does not necessarily align with such impression. Putting aside the editing process and adjustments—which may cause the news to be misinterpreted or even taken out of context—done by the producers before news is published, the practice of embedded journalism might have caused the media to be no longer reliable as the source of information.
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According to Lieutenant Colonel Rick Long, the former head of media relations for the US Marine Corps, while [the soldiers’] job was to win the war, the embedded journalists are significantly important in order to dominate the information environment (Kahn 2004). This holds true that the value of truth was greatly diminished by media agencies by practicing embedded journalism; in which the military could manipulate and control the certain ways of how the journalists see, report, and interpret events, thus inevitably became part of the military strategy to control the information environment during the invasion.
As the primary source of information, media ought to be impartial and truthful by telling its audience or readers the whole truth of information. The process of acquiring information during the US invasion in Iraq prompted the media workers to be choosing between exclusive information and their safety, which left a hole for the military to utilize the media for their advantages through embedded journalism. While the concept is revolutionary in a way that journalists are kept safe under the supervision of military units they are embedded to, it can be potentially damaging to the very principal purpose of the media, which is to inform people with the truth no matter how it might hurt.
Whether intended or not, embedded journalism during the US invasion in Iraq can be considered as means of political propaganda. While the embedded journalists might have not meant to obscure the truth of the war, it is the military that was being smart by controlling where the journalists go and what they could see. Unfortunately for the journalists, they might not be able to realize how the information they gathered were rather one-sided and appeared to be way too sympathetic for the Americans and less neutral for the rest of the world to see
However, the idea to provide people with information during the times of war is still noble and laudable. If only the restrictions made by the military—that potentially affect the perception of embedded journalists to be partial and misleading—allowed the journalists to still be safe but also impartial in their coverage at the same time, then embedded journalism can ultimately be the golden means of acquiring information from conflict and war zone.■
Borger, Julian (2002) Flabby Journalists Sent to Boot Camp. The Guardian [Accessed 18 April 2013].
Bush, George Walker (2002) President Bush Outlines Iraqi Threat. The White House [Accessed 18 April 2013].
Kahn, Jeffery (2004) Postmortem: Iraq War Media Coverage Dazzled but It Also Obscured. UC Berkeley News [Accessed 18/04/2013].
Lehrer, Jim (2003) Pros and Cons of Embedded Journalism. Public Broadcasting Service [Accessed 18 April 2013].
Powell, Bonnie Azab (2004) Reporters, Commentators Visit Berkeley to Conduct In-Depth Postmortem of Iraq War Coverage. UC Berkeley News. [Accessed 18 April /2013].
Smyth, Frank (2013) Iraq War and News Media: A Look inside the Death Toll. Committee to Protect Journalists. [Accessed 17 April 2013].
Tuosto, Kylie (2008) The “Grunt Truth” of Embedded Journalism: The New Media-Military Relationship. Stanford Journal of International Relations, X (1), pp. 20—31.