commentary

in-bed’ing with the Pentagon?

This story broke a few weeks ago, but as it’s an on-going issue…

I first heard of it though Sara Terry, with her tweet of:

Dangerous. The Pentagon is profiling reporters and their reporting. Must read.

The link sent me to a story in Stars and Stripes (an excellent news source to follow, by the way!) about how the Pentagon has been profiling the reporters it has been granting embeds to during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The report finds that “Contrary to the insistence of Pentagon officials this week that they are not rating the work of reporters covering U.S. forces in Afghanistan, Stars and Stripes has obtained documents that prove that reporters’ coverage is being graded as “positive,” “neutral” or “negative.”

This pie chart was extracted from a report by The Rendon Group, evaluating the focus of coverage by a reporter for a major U.S. newspaper. It indicates the firm’s conclusion that the reporter’s coverage was 83.33 percent neutral and 16.67 percent negative in relation to the military’s mission objectives.

This controversy makes you wonder about, makes you return to the very role and purpose of journalism. Conflict photography, for better or for worse, overwhelms mainstream news sites, so what does it mean when a significant portion of mainstream reporting is being funneled through official channels in the form of embeds? One quote in particular stood out to me in this story:

Rear Adm. Greg Smith, director of communications for the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, wrote: “To imply journalists embedded with our forces only serve to highlight positive aspects of our mission slights the professional journalists who regularly embed with our forces and report what they experience, both good and bad.”

If you’re wearing sunglasses, all will look shades darker peering through their frames – things beautiful and terrifying alike. And while this metaphor may be a stretch, I’ll leave it at that and open this one up to discussion, as it’s quite late and I’d rather hear what you all have to say on this issue rather than listening to myself write! Thoughts? Questions? Ideas? What are the advantages of embedding, and what about the reports they produce need to be taken with a grain of salt?

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