Last week, three journalists were killed by the United States military in what the State Department called a “grave mistake,” according to an April 8 New York Times article.
The three deaths, one at an Al Jazeera station office and two at the Palestine Hotel (where almost all journalists in Baghdad are staying), brought the total of journalists killed in Iraq to 10.
Five others are missing.
Over the past weeks, some commentators have accused embedded reporters of losing their objectivity and compromising core journalistic principles.
There is little evidence to back this up, and these accusations dishonor the memory of reporters killed in the field.
The embedding process has brought unprecedented information on a war as it unfolds into homes around the world.
The very presence of journalists on the front brings transparency to war, something that is sorely needed.
Whether embedded or not, journalists in Iraq are providing a basic service to the world.
These men and women are risking their lives for something precious – the truth.
Perhaps more than any other time, journalists are needed during times of war.
War inevitably brings unspeakable atrocities and lays bare the crudest of human inclinations, things that are unacceptable to a democratic society.
In their role of bringing information to readers and viewers, reporters in Iraq are also acting as observers, monitoring the conduct of the war.
Some criticisms of the news media’s coverage are warranted, especially the television coverage.
Nonstop footage of cheering Iraqis over the past week is obscuring the fact that the United States only controls main thoroughfares in Baghdad, a city that covers as much land as Los Angeles; thousands Iraqi fighters could be hiding in Baghdad’s neighborhoods.
Last week, as U.S. troops were fighting in Baghdad, one of the cable networks showed footage of fighting at a university.
A student was screaming at the U.S. soldiers, asking how they would like it if someone shot up an American university.
In the middle of her sentence, the footage cut to a crowd of cheering Iraqis in another part of the city.
But this shoddy journalism does not discount the quality reporting that has come out of this war.
At the end of last month, U.S. soldiers fired on a truck at a checkpoint, killing 11 women and children who were riding inside.
The Pentagon insisted that the soldiers had issued verbal warnings and fired a warning shot and a disabling shot before opening fire on the truck.
However, Washington Post correspondent William Branigan, who was with the unit that fired on the vehicle, reported that the soldiers did not obey an officers command to fire warning shots; the first shots fired were those that tore the truck to shreds.
The journalists in Iraq are professionals; news organizations sent their best to cover the war.
These are women and men that have years of news experience.
Most have the sense to separate their personal relationships with soldiers separate from their reporting.
I am willing to accept that there will be some bad reporting along with the good.
But it is much better than what we had during the first Gulf war, where most war video footage came from the noses of the bombs we were dropping over Iraq.
The journalists who have died so far, and those who will die in the future, died for the truth, and should be honored for that sacrifice.
Brian White can be reached at Zapata@temple.edu.