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The Military and the Media - 2003-03-23


Restrictions on the media and limited access to U.S. troops in recent history, mean many successful military operations and missions have gone unrecorded. That's one reason -- but not the only reason -- why U.S. military officials recently opened the doors wide to the media. Here is a report about relations between the military and the media and how journalists are covering news in the Gulf today.

NATURAL SOUND - BOMBING

During World War II, American journalists reported from the frontlines. The up-close and personal style of photographers, and writers like Ernie Pyle earned praise.

But twenty years later in Vietnam, negative public response to field reports soured relations between the military and the media.

The effect limited reporters access to American foot soldiers -even during the 1991 Gulf war - and - during the anti-terror campaign in Afghanistan.

Military reporter Dave Moniz, of ‘USA Today’.

DAVE MONIZ, U.S.A. TODAY
“We couldn't talk to them, we couldn't take their picture, we couldn't go near their vehicles, we couldn't go near their living space. And that was one of the rules of the road if you wanted to have access to the rest of the military.”

Now comes a remarkable turnaround. With some quarter-million American troops assembled in the Gulf, U.S. Pentagon officials are allowing as many as 600 journalists to accompany combat units.

DAVE MONIZ, U.S.A. TODAY
“At least part of the motivation for the Pentagon is a fear that Saddam Hussein will control the news.”

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Brian Whitman works in the Pentagon’s Media Operations.

BRIAN WHITMAN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE
“We know Saddam Hussein is a liar. His past behavior indicates that and there's no reason to think that his future behavior won't be the same. So I think there's a real benefit to having reporters out there on the battlefield who can observe and report in an objective way what's actually occurring.”

Reporters 'embedded' with soldiers represent newspapers, television -- and the international press corps.

BRIAN WHITMAN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE
“And yes, Al Jazeera has been given some embedding opportunities with our forces but so has Al Hyatt and many other prominent Arab news organizations. There are fewer African news organizations represented and that's probably because I had fewer requests from those types of news organizations, but all of the major news wire services are well represented.”

Before leaving for the Gulf, journalists trained at U.S. military bases.

DAVE MONIZ, U.S.A. TODAY
“They took us out on patrol with the army using simulated ambushes and they taught us how to take cover and conceal ourselves in the event you are in one of those nightmarish situations and you have to think about, ‘how do I save my life?”

So far both the military and the media say cooperation is working.

FEMALE REPORTER
“You know, it really makes you understand the gravity of the situation that we’re looking at. I mean this isn't something that anyone is taking lightly."

But some question how far cooperation will go. In an age of satellite technology, the Pentagon says some ground rules are needed to protect military operations.

BRIAN WHITMAN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE
"So there are going to be times when reporters are not allowed to transmit products because of the tactical situations and there may be times when they can't transmit products because we don't want to be emitting signals from a particular location."

Whitman says most journalists understand.

BRIAN WHITMAN, DEPUTY ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE
“I haven't met a journalist who has ever willingly wanted to compromise a military operation -- particularly one that he or she might be on themselves.”

NATURAL SOUND – soldier
"The key is being precise and accurate.."

Skeptics remain. Some worry that getting too close to troops will lead to sympathies that compromise journalistic objectivity. Dave Moniz doubts that will happen.

DAVE MONIZ, U.S.A. TODAY
“People like Ernie Pyle had a great deal of empathy for the average GI -- the grunt living in a foxhole. And yet I think was still able to communicate very vividly the horror and the joys and the sorrows of warfare.”

But Moniz does question whether field commanders will still cooperate with the media in the heat and confusion of battle.

DAVE MONIZ, U.S.A. TODAY
“I think the real test will be once some negative or stressful events occur.”

However they react, the sheer number of journalists equipped with high tech gear seem certain to deliver instant and personal pictures of war never before seen in history.

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