In Bed with the Military: First Amendment Implications of Embedded Journalism
The First Amendment Law Handbook (Rodney A. Smolla ed., 2006)
36 Pages Posted: 21 Nov 2016
Date Written: 2005
In 2002, the Department of Defense’s new program to embed journalists with troops during the upcoming invasion of Iraq was heralded the program as the dawn of a new age of cooperation between the military and the media, a win-win measure that would give news outlets unprecedented access and counter enemy misinformation with true accounts of American military action. However, the program still places significant limits on reporter access and provides significant military discretion to censor sensitive information to ensure security and safety. Further, reporters may be more likely to adopt a pro-military slant after living, sleeping, and eating with soldiers and commanders who are protecting their lives. As a result, the news received by Americans at home may be less objective than it purports to be. This reflects the tension between free speech and security concerns consistent throughout First Amendment jurisprudence, and particularly prominent in issues involving wartime reporting.
This Note evaluates the First Amendment implications of the embed program and its alternatives. It finds that the program does not facially violate the First Amendment and concludes the embed structure promotes free speech principles better than alternative methods of regulating wartime reporting. In an age of instantaneous news transmission which requires some regulation of battlefields to protect sensitive information, the formalized regulation of an embed program at least allows for an abundance of intimate coverage, increases the transparency of governmental discretion, and promotes identifiable standards for military accountability. It produces more information than a complete ban on press access. It also permits a broad variety of news outlets contact with troops, which might otherwise only be possible for a select few media entities in the absence of a formal military-facilitated system for access. Finally, the promulgation of formal standards provides greater transparency, and accountability, for government actors. It is up to the media and the public to monitor the program's application and to mitigate its potential to produce biased coverage.
Keywords: journalism, reporting, news, media, first amendment, free speech, press access, censorship, military, embed, security
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