Pentagon Releases Reporters’ Iraq Slots

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By: Joe Strupp

Updated at 3:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time

News organizations slated to have journalists embedded with military units heading to Iraq were told Wednesday and Thursday morning how many slots they would get and, in many cases, to which units they would be assigned, according to a Pentagon official. He told E&P that U.S. troops expected to see combat would get the most reporters.

“We’ve tried to ensure coverage in-depth, which means units that are most likely to see combat get good, meaningful newspaper coverage, TV coverage, and other broadcast coverage,” said Col. Jay DeFrank, director of press operations for the U.S. Department of Defense. “It is not based on the safety of the units.” Journalists will not be allowed to carry firearms.

DeFrank confirmed Thursday that more than 500 journalists will be embedded with troops involved in the expected invasion of Iraq. DeFrank declined to reveal the exact number of embedded slots being assigned. He said the number could fluctuate as units are deployed and as access for reporters in different countries changes. “The journalists still have to get approval [to enter] the countries,” he said. “Some may shut them out.”

Newspapers, because of their sheer numbers, will likely have the most slots, with larger papers being allowed to embed the most people. “The overwhelming majority of [U.S.] units will have reporters,” DeFrank said. “There are some that will not because of security considerations and logistical considerations.”

DeFrank also said that most of the papers that requested to be assigned to military units from their local area were granted permission. Although all journalists will have to abide by basic rules for travel with the units, each commander will have the flexibility to restrict access based on need. “We can’t jeopardize the safety of the journalist or the success of the mission,” DeFrank said. “It will be up to each commander to decide how much access to combat the reporter will get.”

The Boston Globe told E&P Thursday that it has four slots. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution said the Pentagon had notified them that they have five or six slots, but the paper may only use four of them — a reporter and photographer from the paper and two reporters from other Cox Newspapers, probably from among the Dayton (Ohio) Daily News, The Palm Beach Post in West Palm Beach, Fla., and the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman. Susan Stevenson, the AJC‘s deputy managing editor, said the paper may not fill the other two slots due to concerns about covering possible terrorist attacks in the U.S.

Newsday of Melville, N.Y., will get six slots, according to Foreign Editor Dele Olojede, and will use all of them, but only for reporters — photographers will “roam freely.” Two will serve with the Marines, two with the Army, one with the Air Force, and one with the Navy. He called this “more than enough slots.” Newsday said it will give the chosen reporters’ names to the Pentagon by Feb. 19.

The Dallas Morning News gets four slots. Tim Connelly, international editor, said the paper will match journalists and units by this weekend. Like others he expressed satisfaction with this number of assignments given to the paper.

The San Francisco Chronicle has also been given four slots, but is not sure it will take all of them, said Andrew Ross, executive foreign and national editor. It has been offered one Navy slot aboard a battleship, and three with ground units, none from the local area.

Although not an iron-clad rule, DeFrank said the general policy will be that reporters can leave the unit with which they are embedded — but may not be able to return. “If the reporter decides to leave the slot, the slot becomes vacant,” he explained. “But there may be exceptions.”

As E&P revealed on Monday, each person who is embedded will have to receive several inoculations, including those against typhoid, anthrax, and smallpox. Biological and chemical protective suits will be loaned to reporters by the Pentagon. Reporters will link up with their specific units both overseas and within the United States, 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.

Recent Pentagon-sponsored military training will not have a bearing on a journalist’s ability to become embedded. During the last few months, 232 journalists have taken part in the training.

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