In the realm of media-military relations, Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) has become synonymous with the concept of ‘embedding’. The Pentagon defines ‘embed’ “as a media representative remaining with a unit on an extended basis”[i] and OIF represents the single greatest instance of embedding. The Pentagon offered 920 embed spots, and, from 775 acceptances, eventually managed about 600 positions from more than 250 national and international media agencies[ii]. The British Ministry of Defence (MOD) also authorized 128 embeds from British media outlets. Thus, a “global army of reporters, photographers, and television and radio crews” deployed to a conflict that would “be the most covered war in history”. Correspondents had “never…worked alongside U.S. military units…in such numbers [or] in such an organised fashion” and the magnitude of embedding was “unprecedented for a conflict involving the U.S.”
Nevertheless, embedding did not originate in OIF. The U.S. first embedded journalists in World War II and about 40 landed ashore with U.S. troops on D-Day. The MOD later embedded correspondents with British personnel in the 1982 Falklands War. Then in 1991, a Washington Post reporter advanced with the Marines, essentially as an embed, in Operation Desert Storm (ODS). Limited embedding also existed in Operation Applied Force (OAF) in 1999.
The supremacy of U.S. forces has perhaps aided the emergence and expansion of embedding programs. Indeed, since the Vietnam War, inferior adversaries have given Western forces significant latitude in developing press-military relationships. The implementation of wide scale embedding in OIF illustrates this point but GEN Mattis, Commanding General 1st Marine Division said: “Before we as a military society congratulate ourselves on the ‘overwhelming success’ of the embed program, we need to remember that we were both good and lucky. What would have been the headlines if the coalition lost a battalion of infantrymen in a chemical attack? What if there was more nationalistic spirit in the hearts of the people of Iraq and a majority of the population fought us block-by-block?[iii]”
The ultimate test of the robustness of an embedding program could actually be in a war against a technologically advanced adversary, which exploits embeds for tactical gains. This adversary: would likely possess the systems to capitalise upon compromises in operational security and target a headquarters with strike assets; would have analytic processes to escalate an embed based violation into a compromise of operational security; and could turn broadcasts into a compromise of operational security by using them to ascertain the journalist’s and collocated troops’ precise location. This could have occurred in OIF. U.S. forces confiscated journalists’ Thuraya satellite phones because their global positioning function could allow a technically sophisticated adversary to pinpoint the phone’s signal and launch a missile strike against a reporter’s military unit[iv]. Embeds also would be in heightened danger if an adversary could project greater lethal force, and decimated or overrun units could reveal tragic imagery with harsh publicity for the military. Finally, in a war of ‘national survival’, first-order obligations pertaining to that survival are likely to overturn second-order constitutional and legal obligations, probably at the cost of media preferences such as embedded journalists. In a war of national survival, ejecting embeds may be understandable; however, this would negate a crucial point by the Australian Prime Minister, John Howard. He reasoned that nations might have waged war differently in the previous century if embeds had reported extensively on battlefields and in headquarters. The Prime Minister questioned whether “public opinion in great democracies would have allowed [the wars to continue], if they had known the full measure and impact of the horrendous loss of...
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