High-Tech War Reporting in Real Time

When American soldiers and Marines finally make their move against Saddam Hussein's Iraq, the journalists riding with them will have unprecedented opportunities to report from the front line in real time.

The combination of satellite technology with the broad access the military is giving journalists in this war means that the reporters, photographers and camera crews "embedded" with the troops will — in theory, at least — be able to transmit portions of the war either live, as it's happening, or within minutes or a few hours of the action taking place.

It should provide television viewers in the United States and around the world with an unprecedented view of the battlefield.

"This is going to be historic. It really is," said Ross Simpson, an Associated Press radio correspondent embedded with the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Division.

Vietnam: Access, But No Technology

Much has been made of the tensions that built up between the press and the military in Vietnam. But when I was a young war correspondent in Vietnam between 1967 and 1970, I can honestly say I never experienced it.

In those days, we had almost total access to the troops. We traveled aboard U.S. planes and helicopters. We rode with the Army and Marines in their trucks and jeeps. We slept and ate with the troops. Out in the field at least, the relationship couldn't have been better.

Back then, television journalists used film, not videotape. Our film reels had to be carried from the battlefield back to Saigon; then shipped by plane to Hong Kong, Bangkok or Tokyo; then trans-shipped to Los Angeles and, ultimately, to ABCNEWS headquarters in New York.

There the film was processed and edited. By the time it got on the air, two and a half to three days would have passed. Satellite technology was still in its infancy; and we almost never had access to it.

Desert Storm: Technology, but Little Access

By the time of the 1991 Gulf War, we had moved on to videotape and satellites were readily available, allowing us to report live from Kuwait or Saudi Arabia.

However, the U.S. military gave journalists little or no access to the fighting. The 43-day war was a brilliant victory for the United States, but most of us were never able to report on it directly.

The only pictures Americans saw of the ground war were of the aftermath — like the graphic footage of Iraqis killed while fleeing Kuwait along the "highway of death." They saw nothing of the fighting that preceded the retreat.

After the enormous success of Operation Desert Storm, senior U.S. military officers were not happy about the fact that there had been no one on the battlefield to record the actual war. They want to be sure that doesn't happen again.

This Time: Broad Leeway, No Censorship

From what the Army has told us, we'll be operating under generous ground rules this time. As long as we don't include operational details that could be helpful to the Iraqis, we're being given pretty much of a free hand.

We won't be showing you the faces of American casualties. For obvious reasons, the Pentagon wants time to inform next of kin. Families shouldn't be learning about injuries or worse from television reports.

Such ground rules have existed for decades. For the most part, they are perfectly sensible and reasonable; indeed, most news organizations adopted them long ago in their own guidelines for reporters in combat.

There isn't expected to be any actual military censorship in this war.

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