Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding

Professor David Campbell ( is a writer, researcher, teacher, videographer, and producer engaged in the analysis and production of visual storytelling. With his writing and research he focuses on photography, multimedia and politics. He examines how documentary photography and photojournalism work, the opportunities multimedia bring, and the challenges presented by the revolutions in the new media economy. With his creative practice he works both as a multimedia producer collaborating with photographers and as a documentarian flying solo.

David has written or edited six books and some 50 articles and essays. This research deals with how atrocity, famine, war and ‘Africa’ are represented, how photographs function to visualize the global landscape, and how US foreign policy and wars in Bosnia and Iraq have been produced. He has curated three large visual projects (Atrocity, Memory, Photography, Imaging Famine, and the Visual Economy of HIV-AIDS).

For the past two decades he has taught visual culture, geography and politics at universities in the US, Australia and the UK, most recently as Professor of International Politics at Newcastle University (1997-2004) and then Professor of Cultural and Political Geography at Durham University (2004-10).

Now he works free-lance and independently, but retains a number of affiliations. He’s a member of the Durham Centre for Advanced Photography Studies at Durham University, Visiting Professor in the Northern Centre of Photography at Sunderland University, and Honorary Professor in the School of Political Science and International Studies at the University of Queensland, Australia (where he is part of the Australian Research Council funded project on how images shape our response to humanitarian crises).

This innerview with David for TheVisionMachine was conducted by Sebastian Kaempf and Peter Mantello in Alphabet City, New York City, on 9 February 2010 and edited by Ali Rae and Ben Walker.


6 thoughts on “Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding

  1. The role of media has always been an integral part of US involved conflicts since the past as it is a medium which can either garner support or anti-war sentiments for conflicts. In the innerview, Prof Campbell noted that there are many forms of relationship between media and the military throughout the 20th century till the modern day Afghan and Iraq War. Thus this critical blog post will sought to review and examine the ideas brought up by Prof Campbell regarding the forms of relationship developed between the media and US military and how it affected the coverage of war.

    As noted by Campbell, the relationship between the media and US military has always been about the coverage of the conflict because both sides have their own idea on how the conflict should be covered. The media wanted to cover the war freely without censorships while the US military wanted coverage structured in a way that can garners support for the war. This sort of relationship can be traced back to the Vietnam War. The Pentagon believed it was the media that lost them the war because the media generated too much anti-war sentiments through their images and critiques of the war (Carruthers 2011:99-100). During Vietnam War, the media and their journalists were able roam freely around Vietnam and produced uncensored images for the public. Carruthers (2011: 101-103) noted that the uncensored image of Vietnam War especially during the Tet Offensive, left the US government with a deep sense of prejudice against uncensored images and unstructured wartime media in conflict zone. This sense of prejudice might have shifted the US government and military stance on media coverage of war in which Campbell highlighted that embedded journalism is the key to US military’s woes on the media coverage of the war and it was hailed by the US government as a revolutionary step forward in wartime journalism because of its accomplishments in the Afghan and Iraq war (Carruthers 2011: 227).

    The sustainability of the pooled system in Gulf War also posed another concern to the US government which is why they developed the embedded system as Campbell noted. The system has a rigid system with many gatekeepers to delay the flow of information which made the media very unsatisfied (Carruthars 2011: 134) plus the advancement in informative and communicative technology posed a challenge for the US government to control the flow of information from the front line (Stahl 2010: 242-244). Image capturing devices were also common among the soldiers and people (Stahl 2010: 242) thus this made the flow of information with very less obstructions. The implementation of embedded journalism will then allow the US government to affect the coverage of the conflict and also feed on the advanced communicative technology to their advantage.

    As noted by Campbell in the innerview, this system is highly tactical and not strategic in which it limits the journalists’ coverage. Embedded journalism is a system which journalist is embedded to a combat unit in the war zone. Campbell highlighted that the way it is structured limits the view of journalists of the war because they will be encountering the same experience as the soldiers in the unit they are embedded to. This way the journalists will only be viewing the war from a single perspectives and not a comprehensive coverage of the war. Furthermore the system allows journalists to freely obtain their story and very little restriction on what they cannot do. Thus journalists felt very free as they thought they were able to maintain their professional objectivity (Carruthers 2011: 230). Ultimately Campbell’s point proves to be very significant as it revealed the structure of embedded journalism and how it shifted the wartime journalism from comprehensive coverage to the perspective of the military personnel.

    This sort of coverage then repackaged the soldier’s perspective into a representation of heroism and military embodiment. Such packaging of war coverage was not a stranger to the media scene as Campbell noted that heroism has always been part of wartime coverage since post WWII conflicts regardless of the type of system and is not solely the product of embedded journalism. Evidently this can be seen in post-Vietnam War era films which focused a lot on soldier’s experience. As such the public discourse on wartime contents could have been affected by the big screen contents and led to the shift in media coverage of conflict (Stahl 2010: 80). The visual products from embedded journalism have many similarities to the contents of Hollywood movies as highlighted by Campbell. The contents that “zoomed in” to the experience of the soldier guide the narratives of the war towards a depoliticized conflict (Stahl 2010: 79). Public discourse became focused on personal narratives which naturally the war evolves to look devoid of political purposes. This is not a coincidence instead it shows the politics behind the structure of embedded journalism and the reason that it was so favoured by the US military. The US government wanted the public to support the Afghan and Iraq war so they personalized the conflict, packaging the war as something close to the public’s heart and the soldiers’ participation in the war. As noted by Stahl (2010: 29-31) that the US government had used “Support the troop” policy during the Vietnam War and it was meant to deny the understanding of soldiers fighting “the rich man” war. By framing the support for the war as support for the soldiers will eventually improve public’s sentiments for the war.

    Campbell also noted another similar trend throughout the system is the focus on technology of the war machine itself and the Gulf War was the starting point for this trend. The focus on technology of the war machine, as described by Stahl (2010: 28) as “Technofetishism”, helps the US government to justify the war as conquering of barbarism and righteous triumph over the evil. With focus on technology of the war machine, it also took the politics aspect of the war away from the conflict and serves as a distraction to the public’s attention.

    Another important point to note is when Campbell highlighted about the idea of surgical strikes when the US military showed clips of missile with camera attached to its head. By showing these clips and emphasizing on the phrase “surgical strikes” allowed the US military to advocate the idea of “clean war” (Stahl 2010: 26-27). Removing the idea of blood and corpses from the public sphere and implanting the idea of “clean war” was very crucial as the US government were still anxious about the “bloody” media coverage of the Vietnam War which they thought was the cause of their defeat (Stahl 2010: 26). However the idea of “clean war” and “Technofetishism” was not emphasized strongly in the innerview but I think it will be very important if one is to research on the US media coverage of Iraq and Afghan War.

    Ultimately these strands in the systems are there to deny any information regarding the consequence of fighting from public knowledge as noted by Campbell. These strands can also be noted as distraction for the public and deny them knowledge of the real information regarding the war. These coverage were all from the military perspective of the war and seldom were there any information regarding the enemies and civilians. Eventually the media coverage of the conflict is just a one sided story and this was further aggravated by the fact that the structure of embedded journalism gave journalists no choice but cover the Afghan and Iraq war from US military perspective as they depended on them for information and story. False sense of objectivity (Carruther 2011: 230) and desire to satisfy the market for entertainment (Stahl 2010: 90) caused journalists to further deviate from true war journalism whereby journalists are supposed to provide a comprehensive accounts of the war. In the end, Campbell’s point on the structure of embedded journalism affecting the visibility of certain subjects such as the enemies and civilians is a very significant point because the news coverage of the Afghan and Iraq war contained very little information on them thus making them an elusive subject to the mind of the audiences and soldiers.


    Stahl, Roger. 2010. Militainment Inc: War, Media and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.

    Carruthers, S.L. 2011. The Media at War, 2nd ed. New York, Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding

    The media and the military have always had a relationship in times of war David Campbell begins, with each party seeking to manage it: The media with the aim to acquire coverage, the military to frame coverage in a particular way. Embedded journalism is the latest form of this relationship and to the military, their greatest achievement. Campbell argues that this claim is correct as through embedded journalism, information is “freely obtained but particularly framed” and consequently, “constructs the visibility” of war. This critical blog will argue that the spotlight’s central message is convincing, engaging with supporting academic literature to demonstrate this point. It will begin with discussing the content of the spotlight, highlighting how it is convincing, and concluding with what else could have been included.

    Campbell engages with a discussion of how the media/military relationship has changed overtime. Outlining in comparison the pool system method during the Gulf War, which censored the media through numerous ‘gate-keepers’. This entailed allowing the media to be present in the country, yet keeping it distant from any frontline combat and regulated by the time taken for news stories to be edited by the military before publishing. Or just as Carruthers (2011:134-35) refers, ‘censorship by lack of access’ and ‘censorship by delay’. Campbell notes, with the rise of new digital media providing instantaneous broadcasts and the availability of technology whereby anyone (soldiers, civilians, journalists etc) can post a message, this system is now unsustainable. Embedded journalism was therefore developed by the military as a response to new media.

    By embedding journalists with military units and allowing them access to frontline settings, Campbell notes what is perceived is freedom of information without constraint. Information can be freely obtained and published in real-time. What occurs instead is a structured condition, where information is particularly framed, as the only perspective embedded journalism allows for is one from the military units’ point of view. Consequently, embedded journalism only provides a very narrow frame of view. Campbell uses an example of reporting on the Afghanistan war, where even across separate news agencies, there was an instance of the same reports and pictures being used, and that they were all coming just from the one place (namely the Korengal Valley). While one could question the access available in Afghanistan due to geography, what Campbell convincingly argues here is the very view that is attained therefore, is tactical and specific, rather than strategic and political. Similarly to what Carruthers (2011:225) terms the ‘soda straw’ effect. There is no comprehensive account or broader context of the war effort. Through embedded journalism and hence circumstances out of their control, journalists become the greatest supporters of the military and the ‘war machine’. As Stahl (2010:90) states, “in wartime, journalists are the most accessible and visible performers of citizenship”. The military has been able to, as Louw (2010:159-60) suggests, ‘co-opt’ journalists. What develops goes beyond the information we receive, but constructs also what we actually see as war.

    Campbell contends that the image of war portrayed by embedded journalism includes two focal elements: the individual soldier and technology. Firstly, with soldiers as the principal actors, a story of heroism and bravery is developed, as we watch through interviews and frontline action filmed by embedded journalists, the personal struggles they face. It is ‘war as reality TV’ Stahl (2010:82-4) also notes. Secondly, through the attention given to advanced and surgical technological weapons such as drones, a story of the might of the military is produced. A ‘technofetishism’ Stahl (2010:28) suggests. As embedded journalism can logistically only provide this narrow, particular view on the soldier and technology, the image of war constructed and consumed is that from the militaries perspective. Further, through this focus, Campbell convincingly reveals that the human consequences of the use of these weapons are ignored, and the enemy’s stories and faces are absent. Violence and the consequences of war are far removed from the public eye. Similarly, many authors (Carruthers 2011:136-37; Louw 2010:156,161; Stahl 2010:25-7) note, a ‘PR-ization’ of war has occurred, where the view we receive is ‘clean’ or ‘sanitized’. We are made to see some aspects of war, but prevented from seeing others.

    Overall, Campbell is successfully able to argue his central message of the spotlight in that embedded journalism constructs the visibility of war. Campbell reveals that what is visible is who fights for us, but not who war is fought against; and how war is fought, but no consequences of war itself. Further, with a focus on the narrow tactical and specific, instead of the broader strategic and political aspects, ‘why’ war is fought is also ignored. The objective behind embedded journalism is not just about managing the media and the movement of information, but also managing perspectives of the public. Through embedded journalism, no comprehensive account or broader context of war can be given. Only a one-sided story is available, and this effects what we see. The view provided therefore is from the perspective of the military and is a constructed version of war that is clean and sanitized.

    Campbell has clearly provided a convincing argument and this is further achieved as it follows and supports the main literature as above. However, an area in which the spotlight could have developed and further explored is the dual role of new media. New media has transformed the traditional media landscape from a multipolar into a global hetereopolar landscape (Kaempf 2013:587; Rid and Hecker 2009:29-30). New digital technologies allow for the instantaneous release of information and allow any actor around the globe access to do so. While Campbell noted that the military developed embedded journalism in response to this effect, it can be argued, new media can also be a counter to embedded journalism in it’s own right. As numerous authors (Der Derian 2009; Kaempf 2013; Rid and Hecker 2009) note, due to the new media landscape, it is consequently difficult to generate a uniform perspective. This is evident in many contrasting sources to embedded journalism including, the rise of news stations such as Al Jazeera that refuse to broadcast a sanitized and one-sided view of war, ‘unilaterals’ or independent journalists, ‘citizen journalism’ (transmissions from eye witnesses and civilians onto social media), and even in the instance of non-state actors media campaigns (Carruthers 2011:217,224; Der Derian 2009:252; Kaempf 2013:601; Louw 2010:162). There isn’t just one perspective available to consume. The representation of warfare provided by embedded journalism can be countered. Although one could reason this also gives rise to questions of credibility or accuracy of some of these sources, what they do provide at a bare minimum, is the ability to turn the gaze back and query what is produced by embedded journalism.

    This spotlight offers a convincing and insightful examination of embedded journalism. In light of existing literature, Campbell’s argument is supported and upheld. This latest form of the relationship between the media and military only provides a narrow view; it is tactical and specific, rather than strategic and political. Consequently, the visibility of war is constructed. With no broader context available, war is portrayed from the perspective of the military and as clean and sanitized. While embedded journalism developed as a response to new media, it may also be in new media that the answer lies to counter constructed representations of warfare.


    Carruthers, S. 2011. The Media at War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Der Derian, J. 2009. ‘Global Media in an Age of Infoterror’. In Virtuous War: Mapping the Millitary-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

    Kaempf, S. 2013. ‘The Mediatisation of War in a Transforming Global Media Landscape’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 586-604.

    Louw, E. 2010. ‘Selling War / Selling Peace’. In Media and Political Process, 2nd ed. London: Sage Publications.

    Rid, T. and M, Hecker. 2009. War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age. Connecticut: Praeger Security International.

    Stahl, R. 2010. Militainment Inc: War, Media and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.

    The Vision Machine. 2013. Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding. Accessed 16 October 2016. Available at:

  3. A Response to David Campbell: Embedded Journalism and the Mediatisation of Modern Conflict

    Professor David Campbell’s interview analyses the system of “embedded journalism” as a key feature of the relationship between the US military and the traditional media during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan (cited in TheVisionMachine 2013a). Correspondingly, Campbell concludes that the embed system constituted an effective means through which the military structured and controlled the media’s representation of its operations. In critically discussing the interview, this response is to suggest that while, as Campbell notes, the embed system functioned as a key strategy in controlling the media’s coverage, the interview nonetheless fails to analyse the limits of embedded journalism in an era where modern media technology has provided non-state actors with the agential power to contest and problematise the narratives created by the state. In discussing this notion, the following is to summarise, and simultaneously analyse, Campbell’s core conclusions regarding the effectiveness of embedded journalism in structuring the media’s coverage of US warfare. Following this, the response is to note a key limitation in Campbell’s discussion by analysing the manner by which modern media technology has allowed for non-state actors to contest the strategic narratives presented by the state and the traditional media.
    Embedded Journalism: A Myopic and Depoliticised Perspective

    Campbell states that the relationship between the US military and the media has historically been characterised by each actor having similar, but nonetheless antagonistic, aims. In other terms, the media has primarily aimed to present coverage of US operations, while the military has contrastingly aimed to structure such coverage according to a particular narrative that provides domestic legitimacy to their operations. It is in this logic that Campbell concludes that the embed system in Iraq and Afghanistan created an effective compromise between such contrasting aims, whereby allowing for the media to depict the conflict, while simultaneously and subliminally structuring such coverage according to the aims of the military. For instance, through embedding journalists with the military, the resulting system created a subliminal means of censorship by constructing the semblance that journalists had the power and autonomy to depict the reality of the conflicts (Carruthers 2011: 225). What was being presented by the media was not, however, a holistic view of the human consequences or the political dynamics of the conflicts, but rather the embedded structure strategically situated journalists to depict such conflicts through the myopic parameters of the soldier’s perspective, inexorably resulting in a microscopic, tactical, and depoliticised visual of the wars (Rid 2007: 152-153). Correspondingly, Campbell concludes that the visual which the domestic audience came to view was a relatively constructed reality predicated on the military’s media strategy. This notion is similarly evident in the analogical concept of the “soda straw view”, which suggests that the coverage presented by the embed system provided a myopic, albeit comprehensive, depiction of the soldier’s perspective, therefore failing to provide a holistic view of the conflict (Carruthers, cited in TheVisionMachine 2013b). Fundamentally then, the system of embedded journalism conditioned the traditional media’s depiction of US military operations.

    Furthermore, Campbell suggests that the resultant coverage created by the embed system was thematically centred on depicting either the heroism of the soldier or the technological sophistication of the US war-machine, in turn creating a depoliticised and sanitised narrative that legitimised the military’s operations. For instance, Campbell notes that the media’s coverage in Afghanistan constructed a narrative similar to those featured in Hollywood war films, whereby, rather than presenting a political analysis of the conflict and its consequences, the coverage followed the conduct of the soldier as the heroic protagonist. Similarly, Carruthers (2011: 229) suggests the embed structure disallowed for critical analysis of the conflict’s politics by situating the audience in a “spectatorial” view from the endangered, but heroic, perspective of the soldier, wherein the military was naturally presented as an “imperilled force of liberation”.

    In a similar manner, as was noted, Campbell (cited in TheVisionMachine 2013a) suggests that by thematically centring the media’s coverage on the technologically “sophisticated” and “surgical” nature of US operations, the embed system resultantly obfuscated the human consequences of the military’s conduct. The media coverage was thus characterised by a “technofetishism” for depicting the US war-machine in action (Stahl 2010: 28), which disconnected the visual representation of the conflict from the bloody nature, civilian casualties, and moral ambiguities that define the reality of such a high-tech means of warfare (Louw 2010: 159-164). This notion is similarly evident in Der Derian’s (2000: 772) analysis of “virtuous war”, wherein concluding that democratic states have traditionally aimed to depict their military operations as “bloodless, humanitarian, [and] hygienic” as to control their legitimacy in the perception of their domestic audience. In this logic, rather than creating a legitimising narrative through conventional means of political propaganda, the embed system, in a manner similar to the depiction of surgical bombing in the 1991 Gulf War, subliminally presents war as a sanitised “spectacle” to be viewed (Ignatieff 2000: 191), which effectively “distanc[es], distract[s], and disengag[es]” the domestic audience from critically analysing the political dynamics and human consequences of conflict (Stahl 2010: 31-32). Thus, as this summary and simultaneous discussion have suggested, Campbell’s interview logically deconstructs the embed system and its resulting effectiveness in structuring the media’s depiction of US military operations.

    Embedded Journalism in a Heteropolar Media Landscape

    While Campbell’s discussion critically deconstructs the coverage provided by the embed system, the interview nonetheless fails to discuss the logical limitations in the effectiveness of such a system within the context of the contemporary heteropolar media landscape. The power to mediatise conflict and propagate a particular narrative through traditional means, such as the television or the radio, has conventionally been a monopoly of both the state and media (Kaempf 2016: 20). Diametrically, however, the ubiquitous and simplistic nature of new media technology has allowed for non-state actors, from citizen journalists to al-Qaeda terrorists, to create and contest the narratives presented by the state, thus destabilising the structural logic that had hitherto characterised the mediatisation of conflict (Der Derian 2009: 251-252; Kaempf 2013: 599). The agential power to mediatise conflict has therefore diffused from the monopoly of the state to a plethora of heterogenous non-state actors, resultantly problematising the power of the state to create a monological narrative legitimising its military operations (Der Derian, cited in TheVisionMachine 2013c).

    Due to the diffusion of agency, Hoskins and O’laughlin (2010: 22) have suggested that the mediatisation of contemporary warfare has become characterised by a new feature of unpredictability and uncontrollability. Correspondingly, the power of the state to instrumentalise the media to propagate a particular narrative has become problematic within the new media environment, wherein the instantaneity and ubiquity of the Internet allows for the unpredictable and uncontrollable creation of contradictory narratives from both within, and without, the state (Pötzsch 2015: 81). For instance, the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison were discovered following the uploading of images by US soldiers to the Internet, which inadvertently created a contrasting narrative that problematised the depiction of the US as the humane liberators of Iraq (Hoskins and O’Laughlin 2010: 22). In a similar manner, Kaempf (2009: 136) notes that the videos created by al-Qaeda in Iraq depicting the beheading of Westerners functioned as a “virtual bomb” aimed at eroding the political will of domestic audiences through dehumanising the conflict and contradicting the military’s narrative of war as surgical and bloodless. Fundamentally then, the mediatisation of contemporary warfare does not function in a linear manner, whereby the state depicts its conflict according to a particular narrative and resultantly causes the political disengagement of its domestic audience, but rather new media technology has instituted a degree of chaotic unpredictability in the media landscape through the diffusion of agency (O’Hagan 2013: 563-564). Campbell’s analysis is thus limited in this respect by failing to note the logical problems in the embed strategy within this new media environment.


    In concluding, Campbell’s discussion provides a logical deconstruction of the media coverage created by the embed system. Campbell correspondingly concludes that embedded journalism, as a strategy of the military, functioned as an effective mechanism through which to structure and control the media’s depiction of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In critically discussing the interview, the response has concluded that, as Campbell suggested, the embed system provided the state a pivotal degree of power in controlling the media’s representation of its conflicts. Diametrically, however, it was noted that a core limitation in Campbell’s discussion was in his failure to analyse the manner by which embedded journalism functions within, and is probelmtised by, the contemporary media landscape.

    Reference List

    Carruthers, Susan L. 2011. The Media at War, 2nd ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

    Der Derian, James. 2000. ‘Virtuous War/Virtual Theory’. International Affairs 76(4): 771-788.

    Der Derian, James. 2009. Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge.

    Hoskins, Andrew and Ben O’Loughlin. 2010. War and Media: The Emergence of Diffused War. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Ignatieff, Michael. 2000. Virtual War: Kosovo and Beyond. New York: Metropolitan Books.

    Kaempf, Sebastian. 2009. ‘Case Study: Virtual War’. In Digital Cultures: Understanding New Media, eds. G. Creeber and R. Martin. Berkshire: Open University Press.

    Kaempf, Sebastian. 2013. ‘The Mediatisation of War in a Transforming Global Media Landscape’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 586-604.

    Kaempf, Sebastian. 2016. ‘The Potentiality and Limits of Understanding World Politics in a Transforming Global Media Landscape’. In Understanding Popular Culture and World Politics in the Digital Age, eds. C. Hamilton and L. J. Shepherd. Oxon: Routledge.

    Louw, Eric. The Media and Political Process, 2nd ed. London: Sage.

    O’Hagan, Jacinta. 2013. ‘War 2.0: An Analytical Framework’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 555-569.

    Pötzsch, Holger. 2015. ‘The Emergence of iWar: Changing Practices and Perceptions of Military Engagement in a Digital Era’. New Media & Society 17(1): 78-95.

    Rid, Thomas. 2007. War and Media Operations: The US Military and the Press from Vietnam to Iraq. Oxon: Routledge.

    Stahl, Roger. 2010. Militainment, Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.

    TheVisionMachine. 2013a. Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding. Accessed 8 October 2016. Available at

    TheVisionMachine. 2013b. Innerview: Susan Carruthers. Accessed 8 October 2016. Available at

    TheVisionMachine. 2013c. Conflict in a Heteropolar Media Landscape. Accessed 9 October 2016. Available at

  4. ‘The Issues with Embedded Journalism, Who’s to Blame:? A Review of David Campbell’

    In this essay I shall argue that Campbell through his main argument, accurately identifies the issues of embedded war reporting; that embedded journalism essentially censors war coverage, by replacing strategic coverage of war, with a tactical view which supports the ‘war machine’. Campbell presents this as the military ‘blindsiding’ the media. I argue this is only partially true, as the media to an extent, welcomed its own censorship, due to the profitability of embedded journalism. This shall be presented across three sections, in the first and second I will analyse the strengths of Campbell’s loss of strategic view argument, and being replaced by a biased tactical view argument respectively; third, I will show how he is partially correct in claiming the media was ‘blindsided’; and fourthly, I will argue that the media embraced its own censorship, due to commercial interests.

    In this section, I shall analyse Campbell’s main argument on imbedded journalism, that the public losses the strategic view of the war. Embedded journalism fails to question one; the justification of the war (jus ad bellum), and two; the military’s conduct during it (jus in bello). Firstly, without the strategic view of a military campaign, the public has no knowledge of the military’s agenda or justification in fighting the war (Kumar 2006: 48). The war may be waged on the basis of taking advantage of a developing nation’s strategic resources such as oil, a naval base, or to abuse cheap foreign labour through establishing international companies. Or simply to distract the public from issues in the domestic state (Kumar 2006: 51). Furthermore, the people Western nations are fighting, as Campbell puts it, are dehumanised, and simply depicted as the ‘enemy’, to the extent that there is no moral conflict in killing them (Kuypers and Cooper 2005: 3). We learn nothing of what their cause is, what they wish to achieve by fighting, or if they are justified in their actions. Secondly, embedded journalism fails to question the militaries actions and conduct during the war (Kuypers and Cooper 2005: 5). The professional units journalists are embedded with, are briefed on the need for sensitivity and adherence to the rules of war. Furthermore, the military is highly meticulous of where this unit is sent, thus not on highly sensitive missions (Joseph 2014: 230). Embedded journalists as such, simply do not have the ability to determine the full extent and actual realities of the military’s conduct during a war. This is a considerable issue, as Western militaries have regularly engaged in breaking international law and the rules of war. Such as; torturing prisoners, attacking civilian areas (including bombing of hospitals), causing high numbers of civilian ‘collateral’, breaking rules of engagement and assassinations through drone strikes (Joseph 2014: 234). Therefore, embedded journalism presents a risk not only to the national interests of domestic Western nations, but also to countries where Western militaries wage their wars.

    In this section, I will discuss the second aspect of Campbell’s argument, that tactical view which replaces the strategic coverage of war, supports western military campaigns. Through embedded war coverage, journalists are attached to a frontline unit, often for some months (Ricchiardi 2003: 28). They get to know each other, share close quarters and rations together, experience the intensity and emotions of combat, and furthermore the units protects them from danger. Campbell points out that it is thus inevitable that the journalist crew report from the perspective of this unit, and attempt to positively portray their actions (Ricchiardi 2003: 31). The soldier’s actions are glorified, they are depicted as defenders of the nation, of the public and of the civilians where they are deployed (Pfau et al. 2005: 469). The glorification of war stories and presenting these soldiers as heroes, adds to an overall cultural support of the “war machine”. This cultural support not only implicitly supports the military’s campaign, but as Campbell briefly points out, even leads to the media self-censoring the graphicness/brutality of war as well as large scale casualty reports (Pfau et al. 2005: 472). This adds to an overall image of war that is romanticised, and far less brutal and horrific than it actually is.

    In this section I shall show how Campbell is partially correct to present the media’s censorship, through embedded journalism; as the “US/UK militaries greatest achievement”, in the sense that they convinced the media that almost total censorship was actually total media freedom. In the years following America’s withdrawal from the Vietnam War (1971), the Pentagon identified the media’s negative coverage, as the primary reason the US government lost support of the war, from the public. Thus, in the decades following the Vietnam War, the government began to censor the media during its military campaigns (Steger 1994: 957). This was evident firstly in the US 1983 invasion of Grenada; in which there was a total media blackout, and infuriating the press. Secondly in the US 1989 invasion of Panama; media coverage was restricted to official press releases by the military (Tumber 2014: 62-64). Thirdly, as Campbell identifies; there was the ‘pool system’ in the first Gulf War of 1990, which restricted the press to after-battle sites chosen by the US military, of which all footage taken by the journalists, had to be reviewed by the US military (Steger 1994: 963). After decades of total censorship, it is understandable that the media when offered embedded journalism, genuinely felt as if they were being offered total media freedom. Fahmy, and Johnson’s study reflects this, revealing journalists from the Iraq war, stating that they genuinely felt free to access information, and to provide unrestricted and objective news to the public (2005: 301).

    In this section I shall argue that whilst to a small extent, the media believed that had unrestricted coverage of US military campaigns, that to a greater extent, the press welcomed and embraced their own censorship, due to the profitability of embedded war coverage. Investigative Journalism, required to provide the strategic view of a war, is a highly expensive, time consuming, and low in profitability task (Paul and Kim 2004: 23). To be done correctly, journalists require years of experience and training and must have integrity towards truth. Furthermore, all information must be independently obtained to ensure accuracy (which means; reading, watching and conducting countless hours of reports, footage and eye witness accounts) and interviews must be set up with the relevant parties (Paul and Kim 2004: 25). Finally, all the information obtained, must be prioritised, edited and then presented to the public.

    On the other hand, embedded journalism requires next to no journalistic training, other than knowing how to capture live footage of a battle. It is cheap to produce, and due to the entertainment element, has a high-profit output (Brandenburg 2007: 948). Embedded journalism provides journalists with footage they had previously been unable to obtain. The frontline unit they are attached to, allow them to cover all the excitement, chaos, and unscripted drama from a real battle, in relative safety. The battle footage they obtain has no special effects, no scripted speeches, every moment is pure, from explosions and gunshots, to the emotions and reactions of the soldiers involved. The public is able to view the excitement of a battle, from the safety of their own home and without the moral consequences that come with fighting in a war (Brandenburg 2007:951). This is amplified by stories of heroism of the individuals involved, and of watching one’s service-men and women fight for their country, essentially providing the Hollywood experience but in real life (Buchanan 2011: 15). This adds up to highly profitable, yet reasonably easy to obtain ‘news’. It is this, which has led the media to accept its own censorship, in an unspoken agreement, to increase monetary gain. Several studies show how for-profit news corporations such as CNN, Fox News and NBC have knowingly accepted their own censorship, as a trade-off for the increased profits that the entrainment value of embedded journalism provides (Paul and Kim 2004: 10) Thus the censorship of the media, was not only caused by journalist’s lack of awareness of said censorship, but also as a result of media companies attempting to profit from embedded journalism.

    In this essay, I argued that Campbell correctly identified the major issues of embedded journalism; that it replaces the important strategic view of war coverage, with a tactical view from the perspective of a frontline unit, which overall supports the military’s agenda. It was also argued however, that whilst Campbell was correct to an extent, that the military had ‘blindsided’ the media; in reality, the media accepted their own censorship, due to the profitability of embedded journalism.

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    Buchanan, Paul. 2011. ‘Facilitated News as Controlled Information Flows: The Origins, Rationale and Dilemmas of ‘Embedded’ Journalism’. Pacific Journalism Review. 17(1): 102-118.
    Fahmy, Shahira and Johnson, Thomas. 2005. ‘How we Performed: Embedded journalists’ Attitudes and Perceptions Towards Covering the Iraq War’. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly. 82(2): 301-317.
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    Kuypers, Jima and Cooper, Stiphend. 2005. ‘A Comparative Framing Analysis of Embedded and Behind-the-Lines Reporting on the 2003 Iraq War’. Qualitative Research Reports in Communication. 6(1): 1-10.
    Paul, Chistopher and Kim, James. 2004. Reporters on the Battlefield: The Embedded Press System in Historical Context. Los Angeles: RAND Corporation.
    Pfau, Michael, Haigh Michel, Logsdon Lindsay, Perrine Christopher, Baldwin James, Breitenfeldt Rick, Cesar Joel, Dearden Dawn, Kuntz Greg, Montalvo Edgar, Roberts Dwaine and Romero Richard 2005. ‘Embedded Reporting During the Invasion and Occupation of Iraq: How the Embedding of Journalists Affects Television News Reports’. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media. 49(4): 468-487.
    Ricchiardi, Sherry. 2003. ‘Close to the action’. American Journalism Review. 25(4): 28-35.
    Steger, Michael. 1994. ‘Slicing the Gordian Knot: A Proposal to Reform Military Regulation of Media Coverage of Combat Operations’. University of San Francisco Law Review. 28(4): 957-1007.
    Tumber, Howard. 2014. ‘Journalism and the Invasion of Grenada 30 Years On: A Retrospective’. The Round Table. 103(1): 55-64.

  5. David Campbell on Embedding: A Critical Analysis

    As David Campbell argues in his interview with The Vision Machine, the structure of embedded journalism has effectively ensured that the media depicts conflict in a way that is largely desirable to the military. Embedding Journalists with military units ensures that they will report from the perspective of the military, overcoming the problems the US encountered during the Vietnam War. What Campbell fails to acknowledge adequately is how the changing nature of the media, particularly in the US, has resulted in the alignment of their goals with the military’s. To show how this is the case, first, Campbell’s argument that embedding focuses the media’s view on what the military wants them to see, without overt censorship, will be revisited. Building on this, it will be argued that changes in the media landscape have meant that it is now more profitable for the large mainstream media corporations to cover stories in this way, rather than fulfilling their traditional role as the fourth estate.

    The relationship between the media and the military has long been one of closeness and antagonism Campbell says. The media want to cover the conflict, and the military wants them to cover it in a specific way (Campbell 2010). There is a long history of the military attempting to control coverage of conflicts, though this was made a priority following the Vietnam War. The Pentagon saw Vietnam as a war that was eminently winnable. In their eyes, it was the actions of the media that lost them support at home and prevented their impending victory (Kaempf 2013, 597, Porch 2002, 85-86). Only with the relative success of the systems put in place by the US in Grenada and Bermuda, and in the Falklands by the British, was the Pentagon convinced that it was possible to fight and win wars in the age of television. However, they were very aware that these wars could only be successful if the images and stories coming out of the conflict were tightly controlled (Carruthers 2011, 99, McLane 2004, 80). During the first Gulf war, the Pentagon devised the pool system, which allowed the media to report on the war, but controlled what it was that they were reporting. While this was a success, changes in media and technology meant that a new strategy was needed for the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq (Carruthers 2011, 126, 131-135, Hoskins and O’Loughlin 2010, 4-5). The nature of Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan in 2001, with its focus on remote aerial bombardments and special forces operations, meant that the Pentagon was initially able to keep reporters removed from the conflict (Carruthers 2011, 216). However, the invasion of Iraq in 2003 necessitated the adoption of a new media strategy and the establishment of the embedding system (Stahl 2009, 20).

    Campbell argues that while it seemed as if embedded reporters were operating with little constraint on their day to day activities, the nature of their placement only gave them a narrow view of the war. Their range of vision, and therefore their reporting, was restricted to a structured, tactical picture of the conflict (Campbell 2010). There was no opportunity to establish a strategic overview of the war, all the stories revolved around specific tactics and not the larger progress of the war effort. Nor was there the possibility to perceive anything from a non-US military-centric position, opportunities to give voice to counter-narratives from alternative perspectives were extremely limited. Because of this narrow, soda straw view, the stories that could be produced were limited in range, although they would have great depth (Carruthers 2011, 225, 229).

    The reports that were produced often depicted a sanitised or clean war, one that largely focused on the military’s technology and the personal stories of the individuals involved. Much of the coverage in Iraq was concerned with the narrative of the brave soldier, or even with the Journalists reporting on their own personal experiences. Above all else, stories were designed to be spectacular, to depict war as a spectacle that was played out in real time on televisions across the US (Stahl 2009, 25-35). This ensured that the focus was on the troops and not those they were fighting, the civilians whose lives were being impacted, or the bloody consequences of war. Stories could only focus on the fighting of the war, not the reasons behind why the war was being fought (Carruthers 2011, 135-137, 230, Stahl 2009, 31). By controlling what the Journalists had access to, the Pentagon could show the public what they wanted them to see, largely hiding the aspects of the war they preferred to hide, without resorting to overt censorship (Carruthers 2011, 225, 229). Stahl summed up the attitude of the military towards the media when he described the media sphere of the US as the fourth front rather than the fourth estate (Stahl 2009, 85).

    As Campbell said in his introduction, the media wants to cover the conflict, however, the military wants them to cover it in a particular way (Campbell 2010). The changes in the way media organisations operate at management and practical levels have meant that these positions are not as distinct as they have been in the past. It is now often in the interests of the media to cover the conflict in just the way that the military wishes it to be reported. Oligopolisation of the media has resulted in mainstream news organisations adopting a profit driven business model (Stahl 2009, 20, 22-23, Warf 2007, 91-95). In addition to this, these news networks are now forced to produce content constantly to fill an ever-growing news hole in the age of twenty-four-hour news cycles. These two factors have driven news organisations to find cheaper and more economical ways of producing news. Under this model business acumen was valued over Journalist practice (Bucy, Gantz, and Wang 2007, 281-283, Cohen 2008, xi, Stahl 2009, 23).

    Some methods of cost reduction have included closing foreign bureaus, reducing staff numbers and making use of cheap and free news, such as government public relations material, wherever possible (Fleeson 2003, 32-34, Stahl 2009, 23). Some have argued that because of these changes, news organisations are losing the ability to pursue their traditional role as the fourth estate(Cohen 2011, 12-13, Lewis, Williams, and Franklin 2008, 17-18). There is also little incentive for organisations to pursue this traditional role, as for these organisations, war is extremely profitable. The two times when the highest premiums are paid for advertising on US television are during the Super Bowl and at times of war, so it is essential these networks saturate their news cycles with coverage of the conflict (Kaempf 2017). For this reason, news organisations are likely to comply with the Pentagon’s embedding system. Being a part of this system ensures access to in-depth stories from the front line at little cost to the business. The chances of an organisation broadcasting something that the Pentagon would not approve of is highly unlikely. For them to lose their embedding privileges would be catastrophic financially, and as a result, they are compelled to practice self-censorship (Carruthers 2011, 139, Freedman and Thussu 2012, 56-57). Prior to the Gulf War, CNN was a perennial loss leader, however, the establishment of 24-hour war coverage turned them into a profitable enterprise (Grossman 2003, 6). To be able to turn a profit like this, news organisations must produce news as cheaply as possible, and in a way which produces content that editors can be sure will be well received by their audience. Therefore, it makes sense for media organisations to embrace the embedding system. It is not that media are being controlled by the Pentagon, but rather that it is profitable for them to participate in the system.

    These changes in the media landscape mean that opportunities for fourth estate style journalism are constantly reduced. The embedding system reduces costs for the media, increases journalists access to news and content and ensures that this content will be immediate and entertaining for their target audience. Campbell’s argument that the embedding system has been created to serve the interests of the military is a strong one, however, the impact that changes in the media have had on how they operate needs to be considered when assessing the effectiveness of embedding journalists. Arguably, the current arrangement is one that benefits both parties, however, this may not necessarily persist into the future.


    Bucy, Erik P, Walter Gantz, and Zheng Wang. 2007. “Media technology and the 24-hour news cycle.” Communication technology and social change: Theory and implications:143-163.
    Campbell, David. 2010. Interview: David Campbell on Embedding. In TheVisionMachine, edited by Sebastian Kaempf and Peter Mantello. TheVisionMachine: Stahl, Roger.
    Carruthers, Susan L. 2011. The media at war. London: Palgrave Macmillan.
    Cohen, Adam. 2011. “The media that need citizens: The First Amendment and the fifth estate.” S. Cal. L. Rev. 85:1.
    Cohen, Jeffrey E. 2008. The presidency in the era of 24-hour news: Princeton University Press.
    Fleeson, Lucinda. 2003. “Bureau of missing bureaus: although television networks have closed many of their expensive foreign outposts, executives say they can cover the world just as well by dispatching reporters from central hubs. But critics say the shuttered offices come at a steep cost to the public. What is the future for foreign news on TV?” American Journalism Review 25 (7):32-40.
    Freedman, Des, and Daya Kishan Thussu. 2012. Media and terrorism: global perspectives: Sage.
    Grossman, Lawrence K. 2003. “War and the balance sheet: news executives are crying about costs. But watch the bottom line.(Spotlight).” Columbia Journalism Review 42 (1):6-7.
    Hoskins, Andrew, and Ben O’Loughlin. 2010. War and media: Polity.
    Kaempf, Sebastian. 2013. “The mediatisation of war in a transforming global media landscape.” Australian Journal of International Affairs 67 (5):586-604.
    Kaempf, Sebastian. “The Evolution of Media/War & the Transformation of the Mediascape.” Lecture, University of Queensland, St Lucia, 22/03/17.
    Lewis, Justin, Andrew Williams, and Bob Franklin. 2008. “A compromised fourth estate? UK news journalism, public relations and news sources.” Journalism studies 9 (1):1-20.
    McLane, Brendan R. 2004. Reporting from the sandstorm: an appraisal of embedding. DTIC Document.
    Porch, Douglas. 2002. “No bad stories.” Naval War College Review 55 (1):85.
    Stahl, Roger. 2009. Militainment, Inc.: War, media, and popular culture: Routledge.
    Warf, Barney. 2007. “Oligopolization of global media and telecommunications and its implications for democracy.” Ethics Place and Environment 10 (1):89-105.

  6. Combat Correspondents: a Critical Engagement with David Campbell’s Spotlight on Embedded Journalism

    The following essay engages with the interesting and thought-provoking innerview with David Campbell. The main topic of the innerview is embedded journalism and the symbiotic relationship between the media and the military, which has been evolving for numerous years. This particular system of media management emerged during the Iraq War in 2003, as a result of a perceived lack of access by media authorities in previous conflicts that the United States had been involved in—particularly the Gulf Wars in the early ‘90s (Zeide, 2005, p. 1309; The Vision Machine, 2013). Campbell’s major argument regarding the nature of embedded journalism is its impact on not only how the public perceives war, but also what the public is actually able and unable to perceive (The Vision Machine, 2013).

    Embedded journalism is “one of the great achievements from the military’s point of view in terms of contemporary conflict, precisely because its given that sense of freedom and therefore removed the idea that there is somehow censorship involved” (The Vision Machine, 2013). This feeds into Campbell’s central message of embedded journalism controlling and constructing what is visible and what is not (The Vision Machine, 2013). Embedded journalism constitutes a new form of subtle censorship because it gives the appearance of more media coverage, but the message is still controlled, or in Campbell’s words, “freely obtained, but very framed” (The Vision Machine, 2013). This is because embedded journalists are allowed to write their own narrative for specific events and emphasise or conceal elements of the story, assuming they follow guidelines intrinsically linked to various constraints on the embedded journalism process—for instance, adhering to objectives of military command, the sensitivities of the audience back home, and the public’s inability to see the true reality of war (Buchanan, 2011, p. 105). Thus, embedded journalists are not:

    Direct transmission belts for State ideology or PR agents but more as what Lenin referred to as ‘useful fools’ of the military apparatus: well-meaning and sympathetic actors that disguise the controlled or manipulated aspect of the embedded perspective by interjecting their own thoughts and words into the story line (Buchanan, 2011, p. 105).

    The minor, and seemingly only, limitation of Campbell’s discussion on embedded journalism is that he did not go into great detail about the constraints placed on embedded journalists by the military. He acknowledges the reports from embedded journalists regarding the small amount of daily constraints placed on them when they were working within a military unit, but did not discuss the specific constraints that were actually implemented. Instead he classes the success of embedded journalism from the military’s perspective as a result of the journalists simply being present within the unit; thus there is a lack of engagement with the specificities of how their presence within the unit affects the process of war reporting, and how their presence was controlled and constrained.

    Campbell speaks on behalf of the multiple reporters whom he knows, and he proposes that they initially believed they had intrinsic freedom in terms of the writing process and the final mediated visual product on a daily basis (The Vision Machine, 2013). However, he explains that they soon realised their media products represented a very limited perspective of the war because a comprehensive view of the entirety of the war is not possible within embedded journalism (The Vision Machine, 2013). It is clear that this is due to the various structural, informational, and psychological constraints that actually inhibit a journalist’s ability and responsibility to produce a balanced piece of reporting that elucidates the war experience of people (civilians etc.) other than just the military (Lindner, 2008; Tuosto, 2008, p. 22). The focus on the individual troops as heroic but also suffering within the media products was a strategic attempt to “provide a glorified visual account of the war machine at work in a way that supported the war machine at work” (The Vision Machine, 2013; Buchanan, 2011, p. 105). In fact, the technology of war is something that is very common within media coverage and is there incredibly visible (The Vision Machine, 2013).

    Other articles identify certain structural constraints that affected journalistic practices, like having their movements monitored and having military personnel with them always, in addition to receiving controlled and diluted information or no information at all for the sake of secrecy and military strategy (Lindner, 2008; Tuosto, 2008, p. 22). The wider literature on journalistic practice presents a more psychological constraint. This takes the form of self-censorship and it occurred due to the internalisation of military logic and tactics, plus having empathy with individual soldiers (Brandenburg, 2007). But even more so due to considerations of the wider media environment and the perceptions and sensitivities of the target audience of the media source who do not want to see the realities and horrors of war (Tuosto, 2008, p. 22). This process is significantly linked to the military-supported framing that perpetuated a narrow view of the war.

    One difference between the surrounding literature and Campbell’s innerview regarding embedded journalism is that the former tends to make a more overt connection between the specific constraints and embedded journalists, and how these manipulated the journalists into adopting a passive role within the process of war reporting. Campbell’s focus is on the embedding process itself (i.e. that the journalists were in the presence of the military), rather than the wider ramifications of specific constraints, which affect how these journalists act as agents of a new form of subtle censorship and propaganda. However, it is important to note that this does not diminish his argument in any substantial way, and it may have been a conscious choice considering the nature of the innerview and its time parameters. Campbell’s message of the dominant military perspective is still very convincing, and the lack of sustained in-depth engagement with specific constraints does not constitute damaging counter-evidence that delegitimises his message.

    Campbell emphasises the framing of war from the military perspective as being inherently connected to ‘sanitised coverage’, whereby significant pressure within the symbiotic and managed relationship between the military and the media arises from the negation of the casualties and consequences of war (The Vision Machine, 2013). The public does not tend to see the horrors of war as told from the perspective of the civilians within Iraq because those who are telling the story are not at liberty to deviate from their preconceived structured media coverage (The Vision Machine, 2013). These horrors are not limited to civilian causalities, which are rendered almost invisible, but also what life was like before, during, and after the wars—very often the western public is sold an image repeatedly by the media of these countries as being underdeveloped and desolate, irrespective of whether this is their true reality or not.

    Furthermore, a common element throughout the evolution of war coverage is that the insurgents or the enemy are also perceived to be invisible: “we don’t see their faces, we don’t see their story, we don’t see their account” (The Vision Machine, 2013). The only time we do see them is in relation to the military: this reinforces the notion that everything is viewed from the military’s perspective in an embedded journalism system (The Vision Machine, 2013). An interesting route to investigate in future could be how non-state actors like Islamic State are rendering themselves visible with their increasing use of social media platforms and media-spectacle techniques like public beheadings.

    Campbell’s innerview demonstrates a significant amount of knowledge and critical thinking about a very important topic. He maintains a central argument through the innerview—that the public’s ability to perceive certain elements and not perceive others is manipulated by embedded journalism. This process is mutually constitutive with the dominant military perspective that perpetuates a limited coverage of the war, which often negates other actors in the conflict like civilians and the insurgents and renders them invisible while focusing on individual soldiers and the technology of war. Despite Campbell not fully exploring the various psychological, structural, and informational constraints experienced by journalists, his argument was entirely convincing and situates well within the wider literature context on embedded journalism.


    Brandenburg, H. (2007). Security at the Source: Embedding journalists as a superior strategy to military censorship. Journalism Studies, 8(6), 948-963.

    Buchanan, P. G. (2011). Facilitated News as Controlled Information Flows: The Origins, Rationale and Dilemmas of ‘Embedded’ Journalism. Pacific Journalism Review, 17(1), 102-118. Retrieved from;dn=098973638747445;res=IELHSS

    Lindner, E. (2008, April 22). Controlling the media in Iraq. Contexts. Retrieved from

    The Vision Machine. (2013, July 14). Innerview: David Campbell on Embedding. [Real Media file]. Retrieved from

    Tuosto, K. (2008). The “Grunt Truth” of Embedded Journalism: The New Media/Military Relationship. Stanford Journal of International Relation, 10(1), 20-31.

    Zeide, E. J. (2005). In bed with the military: First amendment implications of embedded journalism. New York University Law Review, 80(4), 1309-1343

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