Fox News Channel's Ollie North reports from the front lines with fellow Marines. CNN's Walter Rodgers tells The Washington Post via satellite phone from inside Iraq, "I don't believe I've ever had such access over 36 years of reporting." ABC's Sam Donaldson calls the whole idea "a stroke of genius."
Who's behind the strategy of "embedding" reporters inside coalition combat units? Bush administration insiders say it's the brainchild of Victoria "Torie" Clarke, the Pentagon's assistant secretary for public affairs. She developed the idea last fall in an effort to win the spin war. By early winter, she persuaded her boss, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who then made the case to the National Security Council in a 10-page memo drafted by Ms. Clarke and obtained by WORLD.
"We need to tell the factual story-good and bad-before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do," Mr. Rumsfeld wrote. "Our people in the field need to tell our story. Only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops. We must organize for and facilitate access of national and international media to our forces, including those forces engaged in ground operations.... To accomplish this, we will embed media with our units. These embedded media will live, work, and travel as part of the units ... to facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage."
Mr. Rumsfeld's memo made clear this would be no day at Disney World. All media organizations must sign an agreement not to sue the U.S. government for injury or death, and that media "embedded with U.S. forces are not permitted to carry personal firearms." All media must pay for their own anthrax and smallpox vaccines. Also interesting, in light of treatment of U.S. POWs: "No photographs or other visual media showing an enemy prisoner of war or detainee's recognizable face, nametag, or other identifying feature or item may be taken."
News organizations first began receiving assignments on Feb. 12. Each organization received a set number of "slots," but was able to trade, subject to Ms. Clarke's approval. More than 500 reporters, producers, and cameramen would eventually be "embedded." Twenty percent are foreign journalists, mostly British. The rest are American. "The concept was developed to dominate the information market and counter the historical lies and disinformation of the Iraqi regime," a top Pentagon official tells WORLD.
Mary Matalin, a former Bush administration communications strategist who has worked with Ms. Clarke for 15 years, says, "Torie has always been a force for clarity and truth. There is no more difficult terrain to keep true to her approach than a battlefield."
Some say it's a mistake for reporters to let themselves become tools of American propaganda. But the real mistake may be trying to cover this war without military cooperation. Several reporters tried to go it alone and were killed.