Reporters praise Clarke's media plan for war in Iraq

WASHINGTON - Some of DC's most noted journalists expressed concern last Tuesday over the 'gushing' tone of the Iraq war coverage, though all were eager to gush over departing Pentagon spokesperson Torie Clarke.

Clarke, who left her post last Friday, citing "personal reasons," was hailed for "setting a new standard" in access to war during a panel discussion at the Brookings Institution entitled, "Assessing Media Coverage of the War in Iraq." She is largely credited with spearheading the "embedding" process used during the conflict.

"I don't know that there's anybody else who could pull this off but Torie, and she deserves a lot of credit for improving immensely the ability to cover [wars]," said CNN national correspondent Bob Franken, a participant in the embed program.

That praise was tempered, however, by fears that the program yielded too cozy a relationship between reporters and troops, leading to biased reports and a lack of balanced criticism.

"There is a natural human affinity, a simple human reaction to protect those who protect you," said Terrence Smith, media correspondent for The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. "There was a certain amount of cheerleading going on."

Clarke, a veteran of the first Bush administration, declined to comment on speculation that she may join President Bush's 2004 campaign. Special assistant Lawrence Di Rita will handle her role until a permanent replacement can be found.

Clarke was repeatedly called on to defend the Pentagon's handling of the rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch, a story many accused Pentagon public affairs of over-hyping. Clarke denied that her office made any attempt to push the story, pointing instead to "people outside the military establishment" who fed reporters "bad information."

John Walcott, Knight Ridder's DC bureau chief, defended Clarke, saying, "We did not find anywhere in the record any Pentagon official...selling this version of the rescue."

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