Pentagon Won’t Allow ‘Embed’ Replacements

By: Joe Strupp

Even as more embedded journalists pull out of their assigned slots with military units in the Middle East — for a variety of reasons ranging from injuries to personal family emergencies — Pentagon officials say they won’t change the rules that bar news organizations from replacing embeds who leave or switching them from one military unit to another.

Col. Jay DeFrank, director of press operations for the Department of Defense, said he understood that some newspapers may need to move reporters and photographers out of their embed assignments, especially if the war takes more than a few weeks, but stressed that the rule still stands. “When our forces are engaged in ground combat, it is no time to bring in a new journalist to the environment,” he said this week. “Having a journalist there complicates the situation already. Having a new person does it more so.”

More than 600 journalists are traveling with units from all four branches of the U.S. military as embedded correspondents under the pilot program. Among the rules that the reporters and photographers had to agree to before becoming embedded was that they would give up their slots if they chose to leave. However, now that the length of the war seems more in doubt than during the initial attacks, some editors have told E&P they would like the flexibility of being able to replace embeds if the fighting lasts for weeks or months. As E&P reported Monday, many top papers are already naming or even training replacement reporters.

In recent weeks, at least 10 embedded journalists have left their slots, according to DeFrank, who said another 20 or so have asked to leave, but changed their minds when they were reminded the spots would be gone.

DeFrank reiterated the need for continuity among the embedded journalists. “A lot of the reporting is based on getting into the [combat] environment and getting to know people,” he said. “You don’t get it if you step in as a casual observer.”

See E&P‘s complete coverage of Iraq and the Press.

E&P welcomes letters to the editor: letters@editorandpublisher.com.

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