Embedding Journalists in Iraq

When a country is at war, the general population’s main sources for breaking news are the government and the media, which are sometimes one in the same. In conflicts since the Vietnam War, the amount of first-hand reporting has diminished. As a consequence, the government became the source for much of the war-related information. However this has changed during Operation Iraqi Freedom with the “embedding- of journalists and also with the increased number of independent reporters. Some questions we must ask then are: “How do reporters go about reporting the details of the war responsibly?- and “Do these reporters, by reporting these details, put ours and our Allies’ troops at risk?-. In regards to the information which the government provides (such as reasons for going to war, Sadam’s military capabilities, and developments during the war), the issues of “How do reporters determine if this information is credible?- and “Who was the source of this information and could that person(s) have any ulterior motives in making that information known to the public?-.

Deciding on what to report and how to report it poses an ethical dilemma for journalists covering the war. One aspect of this is how journalists report on the casualties and if they should actually show pictures of dead soldiers. Respected journalist Ted Koppel, who is reporting from Iraq, does not believe that broadcast journalists should be “notifying the next of kin through images of the dead soldiers- (Kurtz). However, he does say, “But I think you do show bodies, shooting them in as responsible a fashion as possible.”” He goes on to say “In time of war we don’t want to soft-pedal what is going on here. That would be contrary to the whole purpose of our being here. One thing you cannot do is leave people with the impression that war is not a terrible thing.”” (Kurtz). Aly Colon, Diversity Program Director and member of the Ethics Committee at the Poynter Institute, presents a set of questions to help journalists decide what pictures of casualties to show, if any. His list is as follows: “1) What do you know for sure about the photographs or video to which you have access? 2) What do you need to know? 3) What purpose would you have in showing such images? 4) What consequences do you foresee from depicting such images?- He also advises journalists to think about their audience and as a starting point provides another set of questions which are: “1) What will it want and/or need to see to understand such death? 2) What impact will images of death have on the audience? 3) Will such pictures help the audience understand the truth(s) of this war? 4) Will the images help make the audience more knowledgeable about this war?-

It seems that a fair part of the general population has the opinion that journalists publicize information such as troop movements and locations to spice up their reports, having total disregard for the safety of the troops and national security. Karen Dunlap, the Dean of Faculty at Poynter University, wants to make it clear to the public that this is just not the case (well, with the exception of your Heraldo Rivera’s). She says that the public “needs to consider three facts of reporting in war time and peace: 1) Journalists work in concert with, but independent of government officials.”” Lt. Commander Charles Owens briefly explains the guidelines to which the journalists are supposed to adhere to. He says, “As a professional courtesy we ask journalists not to report anything that might compromise the troops in the field. They are not censured; they are given some information on what they can and cannot do. Any embedded journalists who threaten security are given one warning.

If a second violation occurs, the journalist is escorted out of the unit. – (Dunlap). Dunlap goes on to say that “Generally, reporters who give the location of troops do so after an officer has indicated that it is safe to do so.”” She says the second fact that the public needs to consider is that “News reporters serve as watchdogs for society at home and abroad. Journalists ask tough questions to hold agencies — particularly government — accountable to the public. Sometimes the exchanges are sharp, but most officials understand the importance and fairness of vigorous journalism. Lt. Commander Owens explained it this way: Generally you’ll find that the younger troops are more easily upset by some news reports. Leadership takes it in stride. They know this is part of the game. The game is about checks and balances in the public interest.”” (Dunlap). Dunlap’s third and final fact is “Journalists serve democracy by contributing to a free and responsible news report. The troops have their role. So do those who report with words and visuals. The nation wouldn’t be strong without a solid military. And it wouldn’t thrive without a vigorous, ethical, courageous news media.”” So, it seems that almost all of the troop movements and locations that are reported by journalists do not endanger the lives of any of our soldiers. One exception to this would be in the case of Geraldo Rivera who, after drawing a map in the sand on live television that divulged too much information about his unit’s location, volunteered’ to leave Iraq. Pentagon officials say that they consider the embedding of journalists to be a success, and that there have been very few offenses such as Rivera’s. Apparently then, the journalists’ reports do not pose a threat to our troops.

If one looks at the past conflicts the United States has been involved in one would not have to look far to find reasons to be skeptical of intelligence reports given by the government. Specifically, the Gulf of Tonkin and the Bay of Pigs fiasco come to mind. “Back in 1962, Lyndon Johnson went on TV to tell the nation that North Vietnamese gunboats had launched unprovoked attacks on two larger U.S. war ships in international waters. He used this “provocation” to get the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution passed by Congress. It gave Johnson the authority to change the U.S. role in Vietnam from that of a small detachment of military advisers to one of a large offensive force which remained there for nearly a decade. At the time, most journalists didn’t think to question the truthfulness of what Johnson said, but we learned much later that the U.S. warships were actually supporting raids against North Vietnamese coastal targets by South Vietnamese gunboats- (Steele). “More than a generation ago, secret intelligence suggested that political unrest in Cuba would produce armed support against Fidel Castro, an earlier object of regime change. That support never materialized, as the survivors of the Bay of Pigs remember too well. I don’t think the intelligence reports are all that hot, President John F. Kennedy is said to have remarked. Some days I get more out of The New York Times.- (Gup).

The current war with Iraq has also had its share of faulty intelligence. The ambiguities of intelligence information require interpretation and therefore invite mischief. Referring to Colin Powell, Gup states that he has “made much of finding a link between Saddam and al Qaeda. But in October the CIA Director, George Tenet, suggested that Iraq did not pose an immediate threat to the United States and was unlikely to share its weapons with terrorists ” unless provoked by an invasion.”” Tenet goes on to say, “The ties between Saddam and al Qaeda are not that clear. They spent over a year looking for that connection and this is the best they’ve been able to do. This is intelligence in support of a political point. They’ve created this cell in Baghdad that may or may not be there. You have to take their word for it.”” (Gup). As one reason to go to war, President Bush is reported to have said that Iraq might use its unmanned drones to rain chemical or biological weapons on the United States. However, Bode Opeseitan, who is the Internet Editor of the Nigerian Tribune points out that “You might want to look into the range of those drones. It might surprise you to know they can’t get here from there.”” “Dana Priest, who covers the CIA for The Washington Post, says that while most intelligence may start out as objective, once it reaches the policymakers, its character tends to change. The president, she says, takes the information from the CIA and normally lets us know what suits his political agenda, unless he’s outed some other way and can’t help it.-

It has been proven time and again that government intelligence is not always reliable; however, one cannot totally discount the intelligence information offered by the government. There are also other sources of information which are commonly referred to as leaks’. Information can be leaked intentionally by the government to serve some agenda, or, often to the dismay of government officials, can be leaked without their knowledge. For example, on November 10, 2002, the Washington Post and the New York Times both ran similar stories that detailed the Bush administration’s plans for war with Iraq. Gloria Cooper explains that the war plan “bore the unmistakable watermarks of a Pentagon leak.”” Cooper favored the Post piece by Thomas E. Ricks because it “took a valuable extra step: it explained the strategic benefit’ of the leak itself (informing the Arab world of U.S. determination to avoid attacking the Iraqi people; impressing the Iraqi military with the futility of resistance).”” A good example of the second type of leak mentioned is this: “Earlier, in a July 5th page-one report by Eric Schmitt that also outlined a U.S. plan for the invasion ” a three-sided assault from north, south, and west by air, land, and sea ” the Times took a similar tack: the reason for that silver-platter story, Schmitt made clear, was the source’s frustration’ that the plan was insufficiently creative, and failed to incorporate fully the advances in tactics and technology that the military made since the Persian Gulf war in 1991.””‘ (Cooper).

For months now the Bush Administration has been accusing Sadam of accumulating weapons of mass destruction. They have branded Iraq as part of the axis of evil’ and have linked it to Al Qaeda. However, the U.S. has insisted that it must protect its sources and methods, which are basically the Who and How of intelligence. “It is critical that the press relentlessly challenge the supremacy and, as best it can, test the authenticity and credibility of those secrets that are revealed. After all, sources and methods’ are only of value insofar as they produce intelligence, and the ultimate end to which intelligence is to be put is not merely the successful prosecution of war but the ability to demonstrate why war is necessary in the first place. In newsrooms across the country, reporters debated how best to cover such complex issues as government secrecy, leaks of intelligence, and the formal release of classified materials, all of which seemed to bolster the administration’s position that it was necessary to confront Saddam Hussein. Even in relaxed times, the intelligence beat is one of the most difficult in which to develop independent sources. In times of crises, reliable sources often dry up or take cover.”” (Gup). This makes it especially difficult to check the reliability of government intelligence reports. This presents an ethical dilemma to journalists. On the one hand, they have an obligation to get news to the people and keep them informed; however, they do not want to become tools of government propaganda or proliferators of deception. On the other hand, some journalists feel that their work should support the propaganda needs of their country in crisis. Roy Peter Clark elaborates on this point saying, “A properly propagandist press must not become the lapdog of political leadership, even in the face of war. But we must suspend a routine cynicism that reflexively doubts the motives and competencies of our leaders.””

In regard to showing pictures of dead soldiers on television, journalists are confronted with an ethical dilemma. First, they must decide whether or not to show any pictures at all of dead soldiers. If they do decide to show the pictures, they must then decide what is or is not appropriate material to broadcast. I raised the question earlier that “By reporting on specific details such as troop movements or locations, do journalists endanger the lives of coalition soldiers?-. I cannot see any ethical concerns a journalist might have with this issue. I think that it’s more a matter of common sense. One should not report something that could seriously put at risk the lives of hundreds of men and women. The way in which to report on government intelligence reports and leaks also creates an ethical dilemma for many journalists. As I mentioned earlier, journalists have an obligation to get news to the people and keep them informed without becoming tools of government propaganda. Alternatively, some journalists also feel like they have a patriotic duty to be supportive of the government in times of crisis.

I have decided to use the Potter Box to decide whether showing images of dead soldiers is ethical.

• Step one: Understanding the facts of the case. It is the photographers choice whether or not to take pictures of dead soldiers. With today’s technology, scenes that might once have been edited as the story was compiled go straight on the air. This leaves the weight of the decision on the photographer.

• Step two: Outlining values. Value providing audience with the facts of war. I think it is sometimes sugar-coated by the government to make them look better and to ease opposition to the war at home. I also have respect for the family of the victim and their need for privacy.

• Step three: Application of philosophical principles. Aristotle’s Golden Mean would advise to choose a middle ground and stay away from the extremes. One extreme is showing pictures of dead soldiers with total disregard to their privacy or to what is considered by society to be acceptable. This means showing their faces or extremely graphic pictures of dismembered bodies, for example. The other extreme would be not showing any pictures of casualties at all. Aristotle would choose the middle ground which would be to take some pictures, but to avoid including in those pictures anything that might make the body identifiable to the family of the victim. Kant believed that an action was morally justified only if it was performed from duty, of which there are two types: 1) strict duties (don’t lie, murder, steal or harm) 2) meritorious duties (aide others, develop one’s talents, show gratitude). The pictures could help others come to terms with the realities of war; this would be meritorious. Pictures could also potentially cause emotional harm to the family of the victim; this would be a strict duty of not bringing harm to others. Kant believed that strict duties outweighed meritorious ones so therefore he would be against taking the pictures. The Utilitarians believed that actions are ethical if they create the greatest amount of good for the most number of people. Therefore I believe they would find it ethical to take the pictures because they would do the greatest good by keeping audience informed. The interest of society outweighs that of the victim’s family.

• Step four: Articulation of loyalties. Patriotic loyalty to the government. Loyalty to the audience to provide them with as much credible information as possible. Loyalty to the family of the victims and to the victim’s right to privacy. Loyalty to employer to report quality, newsworthy stories.

By using the Potter Box method I have concluded that the ethical solution would be to photograph the deceased, but to do it in a manner which does not show their faces. This way the family would not be notified of their loved ones death by a picture on television. I also believe that pictures that are extremely graphic should, for the most part, probably not be shown.

Again, I have chosen to use the Potter Box to evaluate the ethical dilemma surrounding the way in which journalists report on government intelligence reports and leaks.

• Step one: understanding the facts of the case. A journalist is supplied with information by a government official or a leak within the government. That journalist should then use all reasonable means to try to confirm or disprove the information. The ethical dilemma lies within deciding whether or not to go to print with unsubstantiated information.

• Step two: Outlining values. Value telling the truth and providing readers with the most accurate and factual information possible. Value relationship with contacts (government officials, etc.) in Washington, D.C. Value reputation as a respectable and credible journalist.

• Step three: Application of philosophical principles. Aristotle’s Golden Mean would advise to choose a middle ground and stay away from the extremes. One extreme would be to accept what the government says as unconditional truths and print it word for word, thus possibly spreading their propaganda. The other extreme would be to label everything they say as a lie and not print anything but stories about government conspiracies and cover-ups. Kant lists “don’t lie- as a strict duty. Because such duties outweigh what he calls meritorious duties, Kant would not print anything that he could not positively identify as being true. The Utilitarians believed that actions are ethical if they create the greatest amount of good for the most number of people. I think that the majority of the time, the American people would benefit the most by knowing the “whole truth.”” But in certain instances, I think there might be some things that the people would rather not know, or would be better off not knowing, so this in itself poses another dilemma to the journalist.

• Step four: Articulation of loyalties. Loyalty to general public to keep them informed. Loyalty to confidential sources. Loyalty to government (which seems to hold increased weight in times of crisis). Loyalty to the journalistic profession to tell the truth and not do anything that would reflect poorly on the profession. Loyalty to employer to cover the story as thoroughly as possible.

In conjunction with the Potter Box, I think it is important to consider two ethical news values- Tenacity and Sufficiency. Philip Patterson, author of Media Ethics: Issues & Cases, defines Tenacity as “knowing when a story is important enough to require additional effort, both personal and institutional. Tenacity drives journalists to provide all the depth they can regardless of the individual assignment. It has institutional implications, too, for the individual cannot function well in an environment where resources are too scarce or the corporate bottom line too dominant.”” He defines Sufficiency as “allocating adequate resources to important issues. On the individual level, sufficiency can mean thoroughness, for example, checking both people and documents for every scrap of fact before beginning to write. On an organizational level, it means allocating adequate resources to the news gathering process.””

After analysis with the Potter Box and Patterson’s ethical news values, I believe the ethically responsible journalist would attempt to verify as much of the questionable material as possible, using all resources at his disposal, and “checking both people and documents for every scrap of fact before beginning to write.”” (Patterson). If that journalist discovers any untruthfulness in the government report, I believe they have a duty to make this known to the public, because that is usually where their greatest loyalty is placed. If the journalist wishes to publish unsubstantiated information, then that person should also provide a disclaimer identifying it as such. I think in these matters, as a rule of thumb, one should always be skeptical of government intel and check into everything that is said as thoroughly as they can. The government has lied before and will continue to do so. We must not allow incidents such as the Gulf of Tonkin and Bay of Pigs to happen again because of inadequate reporting or unflinching acceptance of government reports.

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