We#039;re watching history in the making

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 24, 2003

It seems almost trite to say we're watching history in the making.

But, truth is, we are watching history in the making this week, thanks to an aggressive effort to embed media in the coalition forces fighting in the war in Iraq.

And it's not just the military who are making that history.

Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

With satellite transmissions, video phones and laptop computers, these embedded journalists are making the history they seek to chronicle.

For anyone with a background in journalism, it's a fascinating combination of in the trenches reporting mixed with &uot;reality TV.&uot;

On one hand, we see the veteran war correspondents or Pentagon correspondents, reporting in the field; on the other, we find Oliver North shamelessly plugging &uot;exclusive&uot; footage on Fox News, even as he &uot;reports&uot; from the field.

For anyone with both a military and journalism background, it's more than just fascinating.

Dave Barron admits to having &uot;very strong filters in my glasses&uot; these days. The retired Navy captain spent more than 20 years in public affairs for the Navy and, before retiring in 2000, served as the chief of public information for the U.S. Joint Forces Command. During his tenure at the Pentagon, Barron was part of the effort to craft the joint publication that serves as the doctrine for military-media relations.

Now, as executive assistant to the chancellor and director of University Relations at Troy State University, he watches the media coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom unfold with behind those filtered glasses.

The effort to embed media is nothing new, Barron said, explaining that the military has long had a standing policy on this, although that policy was shaped into a &uot;publication&uot; after Desert Storm and Desert Shield.

In fact, a military document explains the policy this way: &uot;The Department of Defense policy on media coverage of future military operations is that media will have long-term, minimally restrictive access to U.S. air, ground and naval forces through embedding. Media coverage of any future operation will, to a large extent, shape public perception of the national security environment now and in the years ahead. This holds true for the U.S. public; the public in allied countries whose opinion can affect the durability of our coalition; and publics in countries where we conduct operations, whose perceptions of us can affect the cost and duration of our involvement.&uot;

And few would doubt that the real-time reporting from embedding media can play a role in the &uot;psy-ops&uot; or psychological warfare that military leaders have talked about extensively in this war. Even our leaders use the national television media to send their messages to Iraqi leaders and civilians.

But, as Barron is quick to point out, &uot;this is not a Playstation 2 event.&uot;

This is war. And these embedded reporters are as much at risk as the military troops - and they are in danger of putting the military at risk. One slip — an inadvertant location identification in a report or use of electronic devises on the battlefield when stealth is a life-or-death matter - can prove dangerous, even deadly, for the reporters and the military.

&uot;It's not just the troops depending on them for safety,&uot; Barron said. &uot;It's more than that; it's the nation.&uot;

That's a heavy burden for these embedded media, who must balance their job with the nation's security and the war's success. And, they can change the course of history

Stacy Graning is publisher of The Messenger. She can be reached via email at stacy.graning@troymessenger.com or at 670-6308.