Study: TV War Reports Lack Perspective

By: David Bauder, AP Television Writer

(AP) Most of the reporting that television viewers get from journalists embedded with troops in Iraq is anecdotal, rich in detail but often lacking perspective, a study released Wednesday found.

Still, the Project for Excellence in Journalism finds the Pentagon’s embedding policy a giant step forward in access from the first Gulf War and last year’s conflict in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has stationed more than 600 journalists with its forces in and around Iraq.

“On balance, this suggests it’s a wonderful tool,” said Tom Rosenstiel, the project’s director. “But like any tool, you can use it well, and you can use it not so well.”

Researchers at the Washington-based think tank studied more than 40 hours of news coverage on ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, and Fox News Channel.

Nearly two-thirds of the TV stories from embedded journalists are aired live and unedited, the project found. Partly as a result, 80% of the stories featured the reporters alone, not necessarily interviewing soldiers or others.

About half of the reports described combat action. Most of the material is factual, unencumbered by opinion. And there’s little gore: not a single story viewed by researchers depicted people who were hit by weapons, researchers said.

“The strength of the embedding is in the details, the texture, and the close-ups,” Rosenstiel said. “But those are also its limits. Seeing that tight shot, it’s very difficult to have that broader perspective.”

Although both journalists and the Pentagon have generally given embedding a thumbs-up, there have been some complaints about the cumulative effect of the reports.

“What we’re seeing is, every second, another slice of what’s actually happening out there,” said Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld last week. “It is a breathtaking sight to see it. It tends to be all accurate, but not in an overall context.”

Jack Fuller, a Vietnam veteran and president of the Tribune Publishing Co., wrote in the Chicago Tribune this week that the “utterly riveting” war coverage from the embedded reporters “is more powerful than any combat coverage has ever been.”

“Yet it also demonstrates that there is a difference between seeing and understanding,” Fuller wrote.

Despite the preponderance of live reports from embedded journalists, Rosenstiel said some of the most effective reports were taped, after the reporter had a chance to reflect upon what was seen and write a script.

At a time when the press is criticized by some for being interpretive, the study found that 94% of the embedded reports were primarily factual.

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