Information Warfare: March 11, 2003

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The U.S. Department of Defense took a bold step and allowed 800 journalists to join combat and support units and stay with the troops as long as they wish. The journalists have to agree to bring their own gear (helmet, bullet proof vest, gas mask, Etc.) and obey some simple rules of military security (don't use a flashlight or a satellite phone when it might give away the position of the troops and so on.) The journalists are already filing stories about "their" troops and the soldiers and marines say they like the idea of getting the story out about what they do getting ready for combat and in combat. But once the shooting starts, some of the troops are concerned that a journalist with no military experience (with a few exceptions) might get in the way and endanger the lives of others. Historically, these fears have not been realized. When the shooting starts, most journalists become very attentive to what the troops tell them to do. Journalists tend to stay close to troops in combat, and when they do get injured, they just get evacuated with the other casualties, or put into a body bag if they are dead. Video camera equipped journalists should not be a problem, as there were plenty of photographers and video crews operating in the field during the Vietnam war. 

The journalists also have their own concerns. Each of them will have an escort, who officially acts as a bodyguard, guide, interpreter (of things military) and "buddy." Reporters are more concerned that the escorts main duty will be to escort them quickly away from any embarrassing incidents. Journalists are also concerned that working closely with dedicated and gung-ho young soldiers and marines will cause some bonding that will generate largely favorable reporting on the troops. The Pentagon probably had that in mind, as that has been the experience in the past when individual reporters joined up with combat units. But this time, the Department of Defense has taken it a step further. Once "embedded" with their unit, journalists cannot move outside the area the unit is assigned to. The journalists can leave (situation permitting, doing so in the middle of heavy combat would not be likely), but once they do they are out of the program. In a combat zone, the military has absolute control over who goes where, and this control is backed up by law and brute force. Journalists like to move around freely in order to "follow the story." But in a combat zone, hostile locals and bullets are likely to follow intrepid reporters concentrating on a story. It helps to have friends, and the new "embedded journalist program" makes it mandatory.

 


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