April 3, 2003

Embedded Reporters

What Got Covered

What Got Covered

Some observers wondered how much the embedded reporting would be about actual fighting, or whether the embedded reporters would be limited to "feel good" stories about troop morale, supply lines, maneuvers and preparations. Anyone who imagined the embedded reporting wouldn't focus on the actual battlefront was mistaken.

Topics Covered in Embedded Stories
Military Action 27.8%
Combat Results 13.0
Pre-Combat 31.5
Personnell/Equipment 15.7
Aftermath 6.5
Other 5.5
Total 100%

Stories about combat or its results made up 41% of all the embedded reports studied.

Cable news was even more likely than average to focus on actual combat or the results, accounting for roughly half (47%) of the embedded stories studied, compared with 35% on the broadcast networks.

Not surprisingly, the percentage of stories that focused on combat and its results rose over time. The first two days of the study, Friday March 21, as the ground forces were just beginning to move, and Saturday the 22nd, 31% of embed stories were about military action and the results of that action. By March 24, that number doubled to 61%.

The second biggest topic of the embedded stories studied was pre-combat activity, such as troop movements or military strategy. Roughly a third of the stories focused on such matters, 32%.

Another 16% of stories focused on military issues such as troop morale, the jobs of specific soldiers, or the role of certain pieces of equipment. Seven percent of the stories considered long-term effects of the war and 6% focused primarily on other issues, including interaction with civilians and humanitarian aid.

This by no means suggests these other topics were left uncovered. Rather, this suggests that embedded reporting was the media's eye on the front line, rather than on the lives of the soldiers.

Military Action On Camera

The second question involving the access of embedded reporters concerned whether Americans would see war live and in graphic detail. Before the war began, some wondered whether, in the age of 24-hour news and satellite technology, this would be the first war we actually saw unfold in all its horror in our living rooms.

To assess this, the Project classified the pictures themselves according to how close they came to depicting frontline action. Did the visuals depict people being killed or wounded? Was there combat footage without human impact, footage of casualties after combat, or footage of activities further away from the front?

The answer, at least in the early days of the war, was that there was real action caught on camera-though this did not dominate.

Highest Action On Camera
Weapons Fired 21.3%
  Human Impact  
  Non-Human Impact 10.2
  No Results Shown 11.1
Frontline at the Ready 11.1
Moving or Maneuvers 32.4
Non-Frontline Activities 10.2
Other 1.8
No Video Aspect 23.2
Total 100%

In total, 21% of all embedded stories studied showed combat action-weapons being fired.

In half of these, viewers saw that firing hit non-human targets such as buildings and vehicles. In the other half, viewers could see the firing but not see whether those weapons struck a target or not.

However, none of the embedded stories studied showed footage of people, either U.S. soldiers or Iraqis, being struck, injured or killed by weapons fired.

In other words, while 41% of stories concerned combat, half as many (21%) depicted that combat visually.

In addition, the pictures were not graphic. Indeed, our subjective impression is that still photos published in newspapers were often more graphic, as were pictures on foreign television.

Beyond images of combat itself, 11% of stories showed frontline troops either preparing for combat or regrouping after combat. Some of these stories included footage of military casualties after the fact.

In 32% of stories, the most prominent footage shown was troops moving, maneuvering, or scouting.

Twenty-three percent of stories included no significant video elements, meaning that we heard only audio or saw the reporter amidst a non-descript background.

Another 10% of stories were from reporters embedded with troops not on the front line.

The level of action shown on camera rose over the three days studied. The firing of weapons appeared in 11% of stories on Friday March 21, 19% on Saturday March 22, and 36% on Monday March 24.