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The Real Reason for Embedded Journalists

Ruth Miller

Much attention has been given to the tragic and unnecessary death of embedded Reuters cameraman Mazen Dana on Aug. 17. While this is a very sad event, some people seem to be missing the point.

Frequent use of the term “embedded” avoids the phrase “embedded in war” and leaves out that nasty w-word. It’s easy to read over the word “embedded” and not even think about what it really means. While this is easier to use in everyday conversation, as well as easier to swallow in an unpopular war, it loses some of its meaning. The old adage is true: war is hell. Rather than demanding preventative action from the U.S. military to protect the lives of these journalists, it may be useful to remember that these journalists are embedded in a war and run the same risks as everyone else.

The U.S. military has earned its reputation for being cold. Sure, changing “Department of War” to “Department of Defense” was heartwarming in a bureaucratic sort of way, but that was the original job description and it remains true today. Regardless of the necessity of military action in Iraq, the most streamlined and concise operation possible will save more American lives in the end than a slow, albeit politically correct one.

Knowing the risks of warfare, soldiers continue to fight. They see a variety of guerrilla tactics, and have adapted to protect themselves by striking first. By being this cautious, military personnel run the risk of “friendly fire” and “collateral damage.” These fluffy euphemisms are nice to say, but represent tragic deaths like that of Mazen Dana. He, and other embedded journalists, are also familiar with guerrilla warfare. Unfortunately, their capacity to remain objective observers is limited in the battlefield, and this brings into question the feasibility of having journalists safely embedded in a war. However, knowing the varied use and scale of guerrilla tactics, journalists continue to risk their lives to document this gruesome war.

While this intention is incredibly noble, it is also being squandered. Why would America have journalists embedded in a war? To keep the people updated on foreign affairs? Try again. To offer information for the casual bemusement of civilians? Perhaps. To throw the same repeated images and phrases at a country with a large percentage of people who have already broken their rash post 9/11 pledges to care about the rest of the world? That sounds more like it.

The presidency of George H. W. Bush could be characterized by an unpopular war and the loss of reelection. Here in 2003, things are looking similar for another Bush. Now, how could George W. Bush change public opinion? With a massive campaign blitz capitalizing on some patriotic footage from his presidency? But of course! Imagine what will be clogging the media around election time next year. We’ll be inundated by repetitive pictures of Saddam Hussein statues falling, liberated Iraqis giving soldiers the thumbs up, smiling Iraqi children waving American flags, a gaudy show from the Commander in Chief landing on the USS Lincoln in a fighter jet. This looks great on TV, but what went into forming this campaign? How many lives?

Expect the military to show just enough support for the journalists so they stay and record the happy, patriotic moments. The free press is being used and abused by the system in America. Their passion for free speech and knowledge are being manipulated by the military and the administration to form a viable reelection campaign. The foreign press reports a much different war in Iraq than what Americans see. Is this because of the USA Patriot Act? Possibly. In an age where publicly questioning government policy is fewer degrees of freedom than ever from being linked to terrorism, it can be understandable that American media has become more or less a mouth piece of the Bush camp. So if we aren’t getting all the facts right, or all the right facts, why waste any more journalists covering the war in Iraq?

Don’t risk any more lives than necessary to reelect this one term president. The noble intention of the free press is being squandered in Iraq, as are lives. Let’s focus the real journalism on what caused this war so we can prevent the next.

Ruth Miller is a member of the class of 2007.