Being the masochist I am, I tuned into CNN last night. As I did, the well-groomed anchor redirected me to Syria for a report from Arwa Damon, a correspondent embedded with the Turkish military.
The news anchor’s intonation took me back to 2003, when George W. Bush declared war on terrorism and sent the U.S. military to invade Iraq. By that time, the media was already salivating so much at the idea of war that when the Pentagon came up with the idea of embedding journalists with troops on the frontlines of combat, news outlets couldn’t resist. What better way to fill up a news reel that runs 24 hours a day than with a grandstand view of Americans fighting the “enemy” on foreign soil. It was a match made in heaven — at least for the Pentagon, that is.
For the quintessential journalist, the agreement was a death certificate for journalistic ideals. Embedded journalism is much like a driving lesson. You may be able to maneuver the car, but the instructor can always stomp on their set of brakes whenever they please.
Under the arrangement between embedded journalists and the Pentagon, journalists gained access to the frontline and were given protection by the troops. In exchange, journalists had to operate under strict guidelines, which included having their content edited by military officials. The deal meant a farewell to objectivity. After all, how can anyone properly explain a conflict without bias when they are reliant on the troops around them for food, water, shelter, and basic information?
We know from the Iraq War that embedded journalism is little more than producing content for an insatiable propaganda machine. So, from a journalistic standpoint, why continue this practice today?
Because the circumstances have changed somewhat since the Iraq War.
Embedded journalism has its advantages. For one, there is no safer way for journalists to report from the frontlines of conflict. It also allows the public to see their military up close and personal. And while embedded journalism used to produce a distorted view of war (due to its over-reliance on the military for information), this no longer has to be the case.
Americans today can view reports from embedded journalists on the frontlines in Syria. They can also view English content from Arabic media like Al-Jazeera. If they so choose, they can enter Twitter to get eyewitness accounts from citizens and independent journalists.
The Pentagon can no longer keep a chokehold on all information. There are now far too many sources. Beyond that, it also seems that embedded journalists have learned from the Iraq War. As I watched Damon’s report live from Syria, she explained the complexity of conflict impartially, described how it may affect refugees, and laid out the possible implications it would have on diplomatic ties between the U.S. and Turkey. She was hardly the adrenaline-fueled cheerleader commonly seen during the Iraq War.
It left me feeling that there’s still value to be found in embedded journalism.
Laanen Ivar (Rotterdam, The Netherlands)