The Listening Post

The military-media relationship

A look at so-called embedded journalism and how the US military uses the media to send a message to Tehran.

There has always been a relationship between the military and the media. It is an uneasy one, but it has existed for centuries. Reporters, photographers, eventually film crews, are travelling with the troops, or as it has come to be known, embedding.

For the journalist there is a trade-off. Embedding will get you closer to the front line but often, it is at the price of editorial independence. And in the same way journalists use militaries to get news stories, militaries use journalists to get their story out. Those are two agendas on a collision course.

We saw an example of that last month, when navies from the US and more than 30 other countries completed the largest joint-exercises the Middle East has ever seen, a dress rehearsal for the hunting and destroying of mines in the Strait of Hormuz.

The Pentagon wanted to flex some muscle and it wanted the media there to make sure that that message was delivered to Iran. Al Jazeera correspondent Cal Perry was on board, along with cameraman Bradley McLennan. They had one eye on the naval exercises, the other on the media story.

“I think there is a perception that the American military tries to control, the British military, whoever, tries to control the journalists who are with it. And I think in many cases there is some truth to that. They have their message that they want to get across. They want to be on message. They would like you to be on message. That’s what they do,  that is the purpose. The media is a tool of what they are doing.”

Stephen Farrall, a New York Times reporter