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Bangor: U.S. military, media link under fire

Bangor Daily News | February 28, 2007
Anne Ravana

The U.S. military's ability to handpick members of the media to report on foreign interventions influences the media's characterization of the interventions and in turn, influences public opinion, a University of Maine professor said Monday.

Dr. Shannon Martin, professor in the Department of Communication and Journalism at the University of Maine, presented her published research on the placement of reporters in foreign countries during U.S. military interventions abroad, and its influence on news delivery and public opinion.

Martin spoke to the Bangor Foreign Policy Forum, a group of area professionals that gathers regularly to learn about international issues. Monday's discussion attracted 28 people, who listened over breakfast at the Bangor Public Library.

The U.S. military has become increasingly involved in selecting reporters to gather information in the form of "media pools," Martin said. In a media pool, reporters convene and share information they have gathered with other media.

Martin said working together allows reporters to distribute, question and evaluate each other's information. However, her research shows that media pools in the 1980s and 1990s were more likely to characterize interventions as facilitating political change, a characterization that is positively received by the American public, Martin said.

"Americans are much more sympathetic to the belief that what's happening to our troops is enhancing political change, particularly to a democracy," Martin said.

Martin said that when media are not mandated to pool, the military intervention is characterized as facilitating humanitarian efforts, and public opinion is less favorable.

"The State Department has protested this because sometimes intervention is related directly to humanitarian efforts," Martin said.

In the past, the U.S. military would allow news outlets to choose which reporters they wanted to send to cover foreign interventions, limiting only the number of reporters from each outlet.

"Now the military is much more selective of which reporters may come," Martin said.

Martin mentioned an alternative to media pools: "embedding" a single media person in a military unit, a method used in the Iraq war. This practice can cause the journalist to identify and bond with troops, rendering the reporter unable to remain objective, Martin said.

"There's no perfect way to act as a reporter. You're always a surrogate in one way or another," Martin said.

Martin said she had recently been asked if reporters really need formal training. Her response: everyone needs journalism education, she said.

"The best thing you can do is get as much information as you can from a variety of sources," Martin said.



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