Army Lt. Col. Barry Johnson observed last month that the number of embedded reporters in Iraq stood officially at 11, down from a high of more than 600 in March, 2003. The Era of the Embed seems to have passed – but at what price? Brooke puts the question to Sig Christenson, president of Military Reporters & Editors.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Army Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, director of the Combined Press Information Center, or CPIC, in Baghdad, observed last month that the tally of embedded reporters in Iraq stood officially at 11, an all-time low, and half of those are from the military publication Stars and Stripes. The Era of the Embed seems to have passed - but at what price? Sig Christenson is military correspondent for The San Antonio Express News and president of Military Reporters and Editors. He's been embedded four times since the war in Iraq began, but wonders now if the program will even survive. He joins us now from Texas. Sig, welcome to the show.
SIG CHRISTENSON: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Some embedded reporters have suggested that they were improperly pressured by the military. Was there ever a feeling that if you painted a less than rosy depiction of the war that you wouldn't be allowed back as an embed or that you'd meet with a hostile response?
SIG CHRISTENSON: I will tell you something that I have been wrestling with ever since I've come back from this last tour. Every single place we went, a public affairs officer lied to us about something. That's the first time I've ever seen anything like that happen. And I think that's happening because the war is not going well. I think that's the real reason for all of this tension that's developing between reporters and public affairs, and with some commanders. And I predicted three years ago that if this war went south, the relationship between the media and the military would go south.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So we know that in the years since Vietnam, reporters were getting less and less access to America's military engagements, and a lot of soldiers still believe that the media lost us that war. You say that the perception is reemerging that the media are losing America this war?
SIG CHRISTENSON: You know, this started early. I had a friend who e-mailed me while I was in Iraq with our close air support team. And he said, you won't believe what Michael Savage said on MSNBC. He said the embedded reporters are losing the war. And I thought, that idiot! You know [LAUGHS], let's understand something here. The civilian leadership in this country, the military leadership in this country, soldiers fighting for us, and the enemy, even, determine the outcome of a war. Reporters don't win or lose wars.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But is Michael Savage mouthing the accusations of the far right, or is he echoing feelings from within the military?
SIG CHRISTENSON: You know [LAUGHS], I think this is the voice of frustrated soldiers out there. One thing you hear from those soldiers - and I even heard it from some of the guys that I was with after we came back from the invasion - early that summer they were saying, you're not telling the good news stories any more. And I thought, well, what good news stories?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sig, thank you very much.
SIG CHRISTENSON: Thank you, Brooke.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Sig Christenson is military writer for The San Antonio Express News and president of Military Reporters and Editors. [MUSIC UP AND UNDER]
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