By: Joe Strupp
Updated at 9:45 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, Feb. 11
More than 500 journalists, E&P learned Monday, will be embedded with troops involved in the expected invasion of Iraq. Pentagon officials plan to inform news organizations of their assignments later this week.
“I expect to make those known Thursday or Friday,” said Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense for media operations, who is handing out the reporting slots. “It is still being tweaked, but there will be more than 500, but probably not up to 1,000.” Reporters will be assigned to specific U.S. military units and will know their assignments in advance.
Whitman declined to provide a specific number of embedding slots that will be made available, saying the final numbers have not been determined because the exact units to be deployed are still being decided. “It depends on the amount of forces that will get deployed,” he added. “We are continuing to do that.”
The Pentagon is choosing which news organizations can travel with which troops, and how many people each organization can send, based on a broad criteria that includes the size of the news organization, its reach and impact as a news operation, and its location with regard to local military bases. He said newspapers, because of their sheer numbers, will likely have the most slots, with larger papers being allowed to embed the most people.
“Is The New York Times going to get more than The Seattle Times? Of course,” Whitman said. “I also want to make sure I have a mix of electronic, print, wire, photo, and radio, as well as a balance of international vs. [U.S.-based] news organizations. There is a lot of subjectivity that goes into it.”
He said the recent Pentagon-sponsored military training will not have a bearing on a journalist’s ability to be included in the deployment. During the last few months, 232 journalists have taken part in the training.
Journalists will link up with their specific units both overseas and within the U.S., depending on where they are at the time of the embedding assignment, which will span all four major branches of the U.S. Armed Forces.
Some news organizations, such as the Chicago Tribune and New York Daily News, said they have been promised a certain number of embedding slots. But Whitman, who said he has talked informally with some editors about how much embedding opportunity to expect, stressed that no final decisions have been made.
Each journalist who is to accompany the troops will have to receive several inoculations, including those against typhoid, anthrax, and smallpox, Whitman said. None of the reporters will be required to bring specific protective clothing, such as bullet-proof vests or flack jackets, but biological and chemical protective suits will be provided by the Pentagon. Firearms will be barred from use by the journalists.
“It is largely a decision of their own what to bring,” Whitman said. “We require a lot of good, common sense.”