Originally created 03/29/03

Worthwhile risks



U.S. officials say the outcome of the war in Iraq is certain.

But the outcome of its news coverage is anything but.

After all, while this is a war unlike any other in history, its coverage is just as ground-breaking.

As noted on Monday by National Public Radio commentator Daniel Schorr, if having some 500 to 600 reporters "embedded" with U.S. troops turns out to be a good thing, then it will have led to what Schorr terms a "historic reconciliation" between the military and media.

In World War II, news correspondents were embedded, of sorts: They wore military uniforms and consorted with servicemen. But they were censored - and didn't have live satellite dispatches to show the world the battle up close and personal.

In Vietnam, graphic news coverage helped fuel war protests. As a result, the press was kept at bay in future operations, including the first Gulf War in 1991. That particular attempt at sanitizing coverage was highly suspect and rightly criticized.

Now we're seeing a highly different approach: journalists embedded in units, free to report all but the most sensitive of information.

It's a risk to both the military and the media.

For the military, it risks engendering the same anti-war fervor as in Vietnam - and exposing any U.S. missteps along the way.

For the media, the risk is to life and limb: Already several journalists have been reported killed. This isn't summer camp. An additional risk is much more subtle: that being "embedded" with the troops will lead to boosterism and subjective reporting.

Still, these are risks that both sides feel are worth taking - and we applaud the Pentagon for being willing to try it.

For the media, and the American public, it means more information, more immediacy, with much less government filters that strained relations in the Gulf War. This kind of openness comes with risks and negatives, of course - but that's democracy.

Truth is, this ground-breaking news coverage makes a real statement about the kind of freedom we enjoy in this country - the very kind of freedom we seek to lay the seeds of in Iraq.

For the military, this intense, intimate coverage provides not just the risks of public relations disasters, but the benefits of public relations coups: the opportunity to demonstrate to the world the professionalism of U.S. troops, and the nobility of their actions - as well as the high purpose of their mission.

We know, for instance, that American troops are going to treat Iraqi innocents better than Saddam's mean-spirited minions ever have.

Clearly, the U.S. military is confident its men and women, and their actions, will stand up to unprecedented wartime scrutiny.

We caution our fellow Americans not to be overly discouraged by the occasional setbacks being reported. We simply are not used to witnessing so closely the ebbs and flows of combat. And we need to be strong in our faith.

Openness can only reveal truth - and in this case, the truth shall set Iraq free.