Getting the Story Out – Lessons From Fallujah

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TOKYO – The wars in Iraq and Afghanistan may be winding down, but news reporters still go out daily to cover US troops risking their lives in combat zones — stories that can serve the purposes of both news organizations and the military alike.

The Institute for Defense Analyses has produced an interactive training guide for US forces that aims to show how it’s done. The training guide is based on the 2004 battle for Fallujah, Iraq, where media coverage was an important part of planning process; commanders wanted to ensure that the role of Iraqi government troops was, if not highlighted, at least not overlooked. It’s called “information operations.”

As it happens, I was embedded with US Special Forces and Iraqi commandos during that campaign and covered the seizure of the Fallujah hospital and nearby fighting during the opening hours.  The report that I filed of US and Iraqi troops in action led news reports worldwide, including Al Jazeera TV with its huge Arab audience — a prime target of military planners (see video above; additional Fallujah video below).

To help round out the training video, IDA asked me how I came to be embedded with US and Iraqi forces in Fallujah, how I got the story out, and my thoughts on embedded war coverage. Here are a few excerpts from that taped interview:

Coverage of the Fallujah battle was highly unusual (1:32)

Editors in Baghdad had no idea battle was underway (1:48)

Soldiers were shocked to see themselves on TV even as the fighting continued (1:56)

Nearly failed to get any news out (4:06)

Embeds are an essential part of covering wars — but only one part (2:41)

Additional video from Fallujah embed (2:06); video by Kirk Spitzer, courtesy CBS News