Embeds: The Good, The Bad, and The Accurate

From Charlie Reed of Stars and Stripes, reporters embedding with U.S. forces in Afghanistan are

subject to a background profile by The Rendon Group, which gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq for its work helping to create the Iraqi National Congress. That opposition group, reportedly funded by the CIA, furnished much of the false information about Iraq’s supposed weapons of mass destruction used by the Bush administration to justify the invasion.

Rendon examines individual reporters’ recent work and determines whether the coverage was “positive,” “negative” or “neutral” compared to mission objectives, according to Rendon officials…

The backgrounders are part of a wide scope of work Rendon does for the Defense Department under its current $1.5 million “news analysis and media assessment” contract, according to military and company officials….[Rendon] has been contracted for such work since 2005, according to the company.

According to a U.S. Forces public affairs officer:

the Pentagon has begun shifting away from the positive-negative-neutral scale and is now evaluating news coverage more for its accuracy.

“If it’s accurate, that’s a successful news story, whether good or bad,” [the public affairs officer] said.

According to the officer, no one has “been denied access to anyone because of what may or may not come out of their biography,” though, as Stars and Stripes’ Reed notes, “U.S. Army officials … barred a Stars and Stripes reporter from embedding with a unit of the 1st Cavalry Division [in Iraq in June] because the reporter “refused to highlight” good news that military commanders wanted to emphasize.”

Writes Reed: “As of Friday, there were 60 media outlets — excluding Afghan media — on the ground with U.S. and NATO forces, a significant increase compared to just a few months ago.”

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Liz Cox Barrett is a writer at CJR.