Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Looks like American taxpayers picked up the tab for the embedded reporters in Iraq to report Dubya Dubya II:

To prepare for duty as embedded journalists during the war in Iraq, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporters Katherine Skiba and Nahal Toosi received thousands of dollars worth of combat training at media boot camps. After meeting her assigned unit, Skiba later flew to Kuwait on a chartered Northwest Airlines jet full of soldiers. Toosi, joining her unit in the Kuwaiti desert, donned an imposing military gas mask during gas and Scud missile drills.

Who paid for this media training, transportation and equipment? Unwittingly, American taxpayers picked up the tab for these and many other expenses in the military's embedded media program.

"That's one way of looking at it," concedes Maj. Tim Blair, Pentagon officer in charge of the program. Another way of looking at it is the embedded media, by accepting military handouts at taxpayer expense, betrayed the public's trust and venerable journalism policies against freebies.

These hidden costs of the program have gone curiously unreported, perhaps because the top news organizations accepted this bargain for their own embedded employees. Or maybe it's because the Pentagon didn't disclose any media expenses in its $60 billion war budget. Either way, taxpayers had no reason to suspect they would foot the bill when the Pentagon recruited 775 embedded journalists to tell the military's story. For critics who already feared embeds were too beholden to report objectively, this sweetheart deal will likely cast further doubt. The bottom line is that Pentagon officials, to attract as many journalists as possible, offered free training, transportation, food, shelter, medical care, protection, gas masks and chemical suits, Blair tells Milwaukee Magazine.

"The military is paying for these guys," says Blair. "We went into this program saying we weren't going to have reimbursement." In effect, the Pentagon offered free trips to Baghdad and hundreds of journalists jumped on board without packing their ethics codes.

Thanks to Buzzflash for the link.