By: Joe Strupp
Once numbering over 700, the cadre of reporters embedded with U.S. troops in and near Iraq is now down to only 23, with only five coming from newspapers. Meanwhile, American officials said they would likely embed the media with any soldiers that might be deployed in Liberia, a war-torn West African nation.
“It is very likely that we will want to embed if there are troops that actually go into Liberia,” said Lt. Col. John Robinson, who oversees the embedding program from U.S. Central Command in Tampa, Fla. “It has been proven to be successful. We have been able to provide our perspective to the story.”
Stressing that no final decision about U.S. military involvement in Liberia had been made, Robinson said any embedding program would be based on the assessment of unit commanders. “It will have to be considered,” he said of an embedding option in Liberia. “The assessment would be based on the situation on the ground.”
Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant secretary of defense, who oversaw the embedding program during the Iraq invasion, agreed that embedding was likely U.S. troops move into Liberia. “News organizations will clearly have a desire to cover it and we are looking at those options,” he told E&P Online. “I’m watching the Liberia situation carefully.”
The embedding program drew both support and opposition when Pentagon officials announced it prior to the Iraq invasion. Proponents supported the ability to have journalists travel with troops and get a close-up look at the war, while detractors criticized some of the limitations placed on embedded reporters, including a ban on off-the-record interviews, frequent news blackouts, and the inability to leave a military unit and return or move among units.
Embeds in Iraq, which swelled to more than 700 at the height of the war, have dwindled to fewer than two dozen, according to Robinson. Those included one each from The Washington Post, The New York Times, and Stars and Stripes, while two are from The Washington Times. The Associated Press has three embeds, while Reuters has one.
Other embedded journalists include those from Newsweek, Time, ABC TV, ABC Radio, Fox News, the German magazine Stern, Gamma Press, and the Iraqi Media Network (IMN).
“Most of these are people covering a specific unit,” said Robinson, who added that the reduced number of embedded reporters has allowed rule changes that give more flexibility to move among the units or leave and return.