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Posted on Jun 9, 2008
By Scott Ritter
The embedded media program was formally endorsed by the Pentagon in November 2002. On Nov. 14, 2002, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, together with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, sent a message to all military commanders discussing public affairs, and in particular the embedded media program. In it, Rumsfeld addressed how potential future operations [i.e., war with Iraq] could shape public perception of the national security environment, and recognized the need to facilitate access to national and international media to “tell the factual story—good or bad—before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions as they most certainly will continue to do. Our people in the field need to tell the story.”
When did NBC News become aware of this Rumsfeld memo? Were there any reactions to the concept of embedded journalists being targeted by the military as being facilitators for disseminating a pro-Pentagon point of view? The Pentagon states that while no formal meetings about draft public affairs annex content were conducted with bureau chiefs, “informal discussions were held with some key individuals in the media, who provided input for consideration.” The Pentagon also acknowledges that changes to the public affairs annex were made “based on a bureau chief’s recommendation.” Was NBC News part of the “informal discussions” with the Pentagon? Did NBC News provide any recommendations to the Pentagon’s public affairs office based on such meetings? If so, what were the recommendations, who made them, and how was this staffed within the NBC/GE corporate structure?
These are important questions, since balancing the need to maintain secrecy of potential military operations would appear to conflict with any effort undertaken by NBC News to probe Bush administration claims on not only the justification for confronting Iraq, but whether or not there was any plan to attack Iraq to begin with. How did NBC News compartmentalize its knowledge of the Bush administration’s plans to attack Iraq? Was there any crossover in terms of management? Did the same personnel who managed Pentagon relations also manage the reporters whose task it was to press the Bush administration on the veracity of its case for war against Iraq? Did such crossover ever manifest itself in a case of conflict of interest? What is the documentary record of internal discussions within NBC in this regard? Were any policies established on the control of information that touched upon sensitive military activities?
It might appear as if I am on a fishing expedition, so to speak, probing for documents for which there is no evidence that they even exist. Again, I’ll do my best to help focus David Gregory on his investigation. Much has been made of the fact that parent company GE makes a great deal of money from the machinery of war. It is useful, however, to examine a specific case, an instance where the news operation, the corporate parent and the military were all too intertwined.
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One of these embeds was NBC News correspondent David Bloom. It should be noted that Bloom tragically died while covering the Iraq war. Bloom was a rising star at NBC, with an eye for a developing story. “Early on,” NBC News President Neal Shapiro said shortly after Bloom’s death, “he said, ‘I want a piece of this war.’ ” Shapiro isn’t specific about the date Bloom made that statement, but since Bloom was dispatched to Kuwait in November 2002, we can assume it was on or about that time. Bloom was one of the embeds who worked closely with the U.S. Army during that time, developing the “tactics, techniques and procedures” for embedded media. In December 2002, Bloom called NBC News from Kuwait, where he had just covered the largest U.S. military live-fire exercise since the 1991 Gulf War. Bloom told his NBC News bosses that he had been given permission to embed with the 3rd Infantry Division, even though official Pentagon policy in place at the time specifically forbade any such action. Bloom already exhibited a familiarity with the war plans of the 3rd Infantry Division, bragging that they were the “tip of the spear.” Not only would Bloom and his cameraman be able to ride with the 3rd Infantry Division, they would be able to broadcast live while doing so. Clearly, Bloom and his 3rd Infantry Division colleagues had perfected their embed “tactics, techniques and procedures.”
The 2nd Brigade Combat Team had offered Bloom the use of a large M-88A1 tank recovery vehicle. Bloom had worked with the Army to mount a camera and a mobile satellite transmission unit on the M-88. The images taken from the camera would be sent back, while the M-88 was traveling at speeds of up to 50 miles per hour, to a radically modified Ford F-450 SuperDuty truck that carried specialized satellite communication equipment built by Maritime Telecommunications Network, and a gyro-stabilizing transmission dish mounted underneath a protective dome on the rear body. This truck would trail the leading elements of the 3rd Infantry’s spearhead at distances of up to two miles. The M-88 carrying Bloom broadcast microwave signals back to the Ford F-450 truck, which in turn transmitted these signals via satellite uplink back to NBC News headquarters.
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