Pentagon unveils plan for safe media access to war

WASHINGTON: As preparations for a possible invasion of Iraq reach their final hours at the Pentagon, so too do plans to give American media the best - and safest - access possible.

WASHINGTON: As preparations for a possible invasion of Iraq reach their final hours at the Pentagon, so too do plans to give American media the best - and safest - access possible.

Pentagon head of public affairs Torie Clarke convened a meeting of 50 Washington bureau chiefs and editors earlier this month to unveil a new plan, one designed to avoid the many complaints lodged by the media over their lack of access to the invasion of Afghanistan. The process is called "embedding," and the Washington media is reacting with cautious optimism.

"They're certainly trying to give us what we want," said CBS News Washington bureau chief Janet Leissner. "We're going to have to see how it plays out."

Under the new plan, journalists will be assigned, or "embedded," to a particular troop unit from the onset of any invasion. The reporters will then be expected to stick with that troop indefinitely, reporting from its vantage point and following its orders - including when it is safe to shoot film or file a story.

Such access to front-line combat was rarely given in Afghanistan, where reporters complained of being fed false stories or prevented from reporting on activity even within eyesight.

George Hager, national security editor for USA Today, said Clarke and her team "seem to be very sincere about wanting to get us all into units and get us access." Nonetheless, he pointed to concerns on the part of his colleagues that the Pentagon's interest in maintaining tight control over the situation could lead to problems.

"What Clarke seems to be saying is, 'We'll manage all the embedding and we're going to offer you slots on a take-it-or-leave-it basis.' But supposedly plenty of news organizations are preemptively trying to cut deals with units, because nobody wants to be left out," he said.

The flip side of the plan is the Pentagon's refusal to issue credentials to reporters venturing into the battle zone without a unit assignment.

Clarke said the plan was intended to maximize safety for reporters, but some in the media said it could have the opposite effect, resulting in bolder reporters traveling through Iraq without proof of their status as bystanders.

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