The Embed War Dividend

(4:30PM EST – promoted by Nightprowlkitty)

Editor and Publisher gave note to a study recently by sociologist Andrew M Lindner about the impact of how embedded reporters framed the initial invasion and ultimately provided significant positive angles for the public to consume.

The study analyzed content from articles written by both embedded reporters and other sources ( ie reporters who were independent from the process) and found this direct conclusion.

Lidner found that journalists embedded with American troops emphasized military successes more often than they covered consequences for Iraqi citizens

I would argue that this initial framework has continued to influence coverage to this day. While the struggles and horrors Iraqi citizens face do get coverage, even much of the moderate anti war sentiment in this country tends to focus on getting our troops home ( and rightly so ) and their ongoing struggles with getting appropriate health care for physical and emotional damage. We still don’t talk much about how badly we fucked up the daily lives of citizens there. Even if we packed up and left today, the humanitarian crisis would spiral for years to come, an argument often manipulated by hawks to justify staying in a military role. Instead of a Marshall Plan, we got a nice big trough for contractors. And we haven’t been very generous with offering a place for refugees.

Few western countries have accepted Iraqis. Sweden has been the most welcoming, granting asylum to almost 9,000 Iraqis in 2006, almost 20 times more than the United States and about half the total for all of Europe that year

According to the Center For American Progress there have been

More than 4 million: Estimated number of Iraqis displaced since the 2003 invasion

Many have been displaced in their own country.

Since the start of the war…. the United States has admitted

5,742: Total number of Iraqis resettled to the United States as of January 24 (2008)

Our lofty goal for 2008?

12,000: Target for Iraqi refugee admittance in 2008 fiscal year. A goal that will be impossible to meet at the current admittance levels.

Imagine a brave and foolish political candidate trying to campaign on the issue of trying to admit more than the target number during these tenuous economic times. Of course that would speak to our desire as a nation for accountability and we don’t want to talk about that.

Imagine what would have happened if reporters got embedded with Iraqi citizens or humanitarian organizations. How many reporters, or for that matter any of us could tolerate the conditions necessary to do that? But we couldn’t have that. Too many perspectives add complexities. Complexities could undermine victories. For whom I am not certain.  

But the narrative of Iraq in the present is a direct result of the embedded narrative that was established at the start of this nightmare. We either blame them for not “stepping up” or secretly if we push for withdrawal wish to distance ourselves from the mess we made. Naturally hawks seize upon this to explain why we cannot leave even as they do not send their own children to fight.

Andrew M Lidner’s entire article can be found here,and is well worth the read.

Lidner introduces his article by noting that…

While most embedded reporters did not’t shy away from describing the horrors of war, the structural conditions of the embedded program kept them focused on the horrors facing the troops, rather than upon the thousands of Iraqis who died.

I would argue that this was a natural progression. American tv viewers and newspaper reader and blog participants tend not to respond as viscerally to the deaths and tribulations of foreigners. It is also a framing that reflects dominant hegemony an assumption that Americans and westerners have more inherent value because they are both familiar and part of a of a more rational capitalist world. Indeed how, often are “foreign” conflicts portrayed as nothing more than blood thirty tribalism and extreme ethnic grievances, which reinforces our own sense of superiority?

The press essentially rolled over for the military.

But given the far greater frequency and prominence of published articles penned by embedded journalists, ultimately the embedding program proved a victory for the armed services in the historical tug-of-war between the press and military over journalistic freedom during war time.

I also can’t help but be curious about the extent to which the embed program fueled “manhood” fantasies for journalists, being that close to the action being a part of the inevitable bonding experience, being able to philosophically claim they were in on the action.

Lidner spends some amount of time covering the evolving relationship between the press and the military, noting that many on the right liked to blame a “liberal” press for the way the Vietnam war was delivered to Mr. and Mrs.America.

The embed program was deliberately developed not an off the cuff idea.

In 2002, journalists attended an embed boot camp in which they learned military jargon and simulated the living conditions that the troops were trained in.

Just as important….

Perhaps more significantly, embedded reporters were forced to sign a contract and agree to the “ground rules”-allow their reports to be reviewed by military officials prior to release, to be escorted at all times by military personnel, and to allow the government to dismiss them at any time for any reason

Your objective American media at work.

Although many would argue that this process amounts to indoctrination, Lidner notes that there was another reason why journalists ended up promoting a military centric view…

However, a different, and arguably more compelling, explanation exists for why embedded reporters might depict the war in a military-centric manner: they didn’t have the freedom to roam

While there were other attempts by news organization to cover, they were expensive and simply having reporters in Bagdad, gave only slightly more “independent” coverage than the embed process.

The results? Predictable and depressing.

Another 2006 study of 452 articles from American national daily newspapers found that compared to non-embedded reporters, embedded reporters produced coverage significantly more positive about the military and “implied a greater trust toward military personnel.

Lidner is more even handed than I noting that a contrasting study between embeds and independently place reporters would answer deeper content and ideological questions.

He notes that embedded reporters frequently took the point of view of the American soldier and wrote not “fluff” stories but tales of military operations and combat.

embedded journalists used a soldier as a source in 93 percent of all articles, more than twice as frequently as independent journalists

The problem with this is of course we as an audience ended up with little historical or political context for the next phase of the occupation, Iraqis who did not want us there and the fractional cleavages the arose.

Using our own soldiers as sources taught us little about Iraqis and their perspective.

Studying content, Lidner noted that…

Baghdad-stationed reporters provided the most extensive coverage of the consequences of the invasion, reporting on bombing, property damage, and/or civilian fatalities in half the articles.

Bagdad based reporters were not part of the embed program.

Reporters who were embedded payed little attention to civilian causalties…

Though civilian deaths were acknowledged in half the articles by Baghdad-stationed reporters and 30 percent of articles by independent reporters, only 12 percent of articles by embedded reporters noted the human toll of the war on the Iraqi people.

Lidner notes that at one point during the start of the war 64 percent of journalists were embedded.

Lidner concludes that based on content…

 the majority of the news coverage of the war was skewed toward the soldier’s experience and failed to fully recognize the extent of the human and material costs.

Nor have things improved dramatically…

Today, a variation on the original embedding program exists, with journalists “embedding” with units on a particular mission or for shorter periods of time. Even journalists committed to depicting the Iraqi experience of the ongoing conflict, such as Jon Lee Anderson of The New Yorker, have traveled on brief stints with Army units because it’s one of the least dangerous ways to cover the insurgency

Although much is made now of the fact that the MSM was “hoodwinked” by information being disseminated prior to the invasion, it is clear that they went along willingly and eagerly once the game was in play. The invasion of Iraq was really about Americans not Iraqis. And I have no doubt that any future conflicts on a massive scale will be organized much the same way. If Americans want the truth about conflict propelled by American interests it might be helpful to turn on the TV and and invest in foreign sources. Military industrial complex anybody? The irony is that reporters who used American soldiers as sources didn’t really serve American interests either. Some of those same soldiers are now coming home to injury, financial ruin, psychological disorders and a confused American public.

I should point out that anything I did not put in blockquotes or link to is strictly my own opinion not Lidner’s and it would be useful to read his entire article.


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  1. a morning pony to finish this off. As usual, I went on too long, so I must apologize for that.

    • Robyn on June 14, 2008 at 17:03

    …with the Iraqi citizenry.  There can be nothing fair or balanced about such a situation.

    • OPOL on June 14, 2008 at 17:04

    Thank you.  🙂

  2. coss post this at Daily Hoo Haw and maybe somebody can provide a better link or I will be savaged for my crappy link.

  3. I had begun to miss seeing your posts.

    I remember when the whole “embed” thing was launched. At the time, I didn’t see how it would work. But I knew that if Bushco had set this up as a way for us to get the news, that they had thought long and hard about how to control it. And it seems to have pretty much worked for them according to this analysis and our own observations.

    But then, there’s the alternative media. I remember a while ago finding Hometown Baghdad (the videos aren’t linking to well for me, don’t know why). They gave several young Iraqi men cameras and asked them to film their lives. Its still a bit scewed because they are all men and seem to be at least middle to upper income. But they tell some powerful stories that give you a glimpse.  

    • RiaD on June 14, 2008 at 18:29

    ver ver well done!! Bravo!

    ::stands applauding::

    • robodd on June 14, 2008 at 21:06

    should have been the media’s first hint.  Embedded literally means to be “in bed with.”

    It also would be wise to note that a kind of Stockholm Syndrome effect would be likely when the media was being protected by the very people they were reporting about.

    This was all very deliberate strategy for managing war coverage.

    • geomoo on June 15, 2008 at 18:58

    It is sad how little we get of this human view.

    One thing this makes me think of, which I don’t know much about, is the number of reporters who have died in Iraq.  I’m wondering how many were intentionally killed because they were too independent.

    I also think of the Red Zone/Green Zone divisions discussed by Naomi Klein.  Create conditions in the Red Zone which are so dangerous, anarchic, and frightening that few would have the courage to go there.  Then there is little inter-penetration of information.  We in the Green Zone have our comfortable little reality.  No need to be concerned with the suffering masses in the scary part.  Embedded reporters are just one aspect to this polarization.

    • Valtin on June 16, 2008 at 03:41

    Thanks for your important essay summarizing it and adding your own stimulating point of view.

    Embedded reporters = unfree press (because a bought press, a controlled press, a manipulated press is not a free press)

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