Principles of Politics Exercise


Goals of This Exercise

  • Examine the goals and instrumental reasoning of news reporters, on the one hand, and their sources and subjects, on the other hand.
  • Discuss possible reasons why the Pentagon might have wanted to “embed” reporters with military units during the 2003 Iraq War.
  • Explore the likely impact of such “embedding” on the relationship of reporter with source or subject and the content of news.

Examining the Rationality Principle

The Rationality Principle: all political behavior has a purpose. All political actors engage in instrumental acts designed to further their individual goals.

Treating government sources and reporters as political actors, what are the goals of each?

  • Government Source Goals

Governmental actors want news coverage and they want it on their terms; that is, they want favorable coverage that promotes rather than hinders their goals.

  • Reporters’ Goals

Reporters need: (a) access to news; (b) contacts with official sources; and (c) pictures to accompany any televised reports. In addition, reporters want discretion and autonomy—they want to control what they report.

  • The Source-Reporter Relationship

The competing goals of reporters and sources create an “adversarial” relationship. Reporters stay close enough to their sources to maintain access, but feel obligated to maintain their autonomy.

Embedded Reporters

During the war in Iraq, the Pentagon established a program of “embedding reporters” with military units on the ground. Reporters participating in the embedding process had to agree to several rules established by the Pentagon.

According to the Policy Principle (political outcomes are the products of individual preferences and institutional procedures), the Pentagon’s rules for embedded reporters likely had effects on the coverage the war received.

Rules for Embeds

  • Reporters have to undergo intensive military training.
  • Embedded reporters must agree not to report sensitive or strategic information.
  • Embedded reporters cannot rotate in and out of their embedded status with a particular military unit.
  • If embedded reporters rotate out of their unit, their news organization loses its spot in the unit.

Answer the following questions:

How did the embedding process allow the Pentagon greater control over their relationship with the press? What goals did they probably advance through the practice?
How did the embedding process allow reporters the opportunity to achieve their goals? What goals did they have to compromise to participate?
What was the likely effect of embedding reporters with military units on the traditionally adversarial relationship between journalists and their subjects?

Number of Embedded Journalists

At the height of the military offensive, there were almost 800 American journalists embedded with military units in Iraq.

After the “fall of Baghdad,” the number of embedded journalists dropped to less than 190.

By 2006, USA Today reported that there were as few as 31 journalists embedded in Iraq.

Over 20 reporters “asked to leave, but changed their minds when reminded [their news organizations’] spots would evaporate.”

Source: Joe Strupp, “Embeds Muster Out of Military” Editor & Publisher, April 28, 2003; Joe Strupp, “Embeds Get No Relief, DOD Says” Editor & Publisher, April 7, 2003; Mark Memmott, “Reporters in Iraq under Fire There, and from Critics,” USA Today, March 22, 2006.

Answer the following questions:

Considering the goals of reporters, what explains the decline of embedded reporters (by about 75 percent) after the fall of Baghdad and in the ensuing years?
How did the rules governing embedded journalists have their intended effect in maintaining coverage of the Iraq war?
What goals and considerations on the part of reporters allowed the Pentagon to achieve its goal of maintaining coverage?


  • Cook, Timothy E. Governing with the News: The News Media as a Political Institution. 2nd ed. University of Chicago Press, 2005.
  • Memmott, Mark. “Reporters in Iraq under Fire There, and from Critics.” USA Today, March 22, 2006.
  • Strupp, Joe. “Embeds Get No Relief, DOD Says.” Editor & Publisher, April 7, 2003, pp. 7–8.
  • Strupp, Joe. “Embeds Muster Out of Military.” Editor & Publisher, April 28, 2003, p. 9.

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