Cartoonist Ted Rall and I are writing “dueling” columns on the subject of embedded reporting. Ted’s is online at Cartoon Movement:
“It was the early ’80s. The USSR had recently invaded Afghanistan and the British journalist Robert Fisk was there to cover the occupation.
“After he heard about fighting north of Kabul Fisk asked the Soviet authorities for permission to travel to the battle zone. They said no. He went anyway.
“Russian troops arrested him and headed back to Kabul. On the way they were ambushed by mujahideen. The situation became desperate. A Soviet officer pushed a gun into Fisk’s hands. Faced with a choice between journalistic objectivity and a hail of bullets, Fisk did what anyone would do: he took the gun and started firing. It’s not like the Afghans were asking to see press credentials.
“In simpler times, we would say that Fisk had been morally compromised. In the parlance of 21st century war correspondency, he had been ‘embedded.’
“Rolled out by the Pentagon in time for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the “embedding” of American reporters into U.S. combat units in Iraq and Afghanistan has already become the standard way for print and broadcast reporters to cover the wars.
“‘Independent’ reporting — traveling on your own, relying on your wits and local contacts as you come across them — is now virtually unheard of. Mainly, this is because reporting from war zones is expensive. Most journalists need to be sponsored by a major media organization; these outfits employ lawyers dedicated to limiting legal exposure. These attorneys think it’s safer for reporters to travel as embeds.
“They are mistaken. Not only does embedding make for terrible reporting, it is dangerous — not just for embeds, who come under fire at the same time as the soldiers with whom they travel and are widely perceived as shills for a brutal occupation, but for independents like me.”