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If War Starts, Battle Coverage to Be Unprecedented

By Kathleen T. Rhem
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Feb. 26, 2003 – If the United States is forced into a war with Iraq, the American public can expect "incredibly robust coverage," the woman in charge of facilitating that coverage said today.

Victoria Clarke, assistant secretary of defense for public affairs, told NBC Today show's Matt Lauer that reporters will be with air, sea and ground units "from the very beginning" of any conflict. With current technology, it's conceivable American and international viewers could see real-time battle coverage, she said.

The only restrictions will be "those things that could impact the success of the mission, those things that can put people's lives at risk," she said.

Clarke didn't deny that live coverage could possibly lead to American viewers seeing American soldiers die in battle. "War is not a pleasant thing," she said. "That's why the president and others are trying so hard to exhaust every possibility, so that (armed conflict) is a last resort."

Such open coverage is only possible because media representatives and defense officials have spent countless hours drawing up media "rules of engagement." Clarke said cooperation between major media outlets and the Pentagon has been extraordinarily close in recent months to determine how best to facilitate news coverage.

Operational security is always a top concern, Clarke said, but journalists who accompany units can generally be trusted to follow established rules on the release of information. She pointed to the hundreds, even thousands, of reporters who covered operations in Afghanistan as an example.

"We had very few incidents in which we believed reporters actually, knowingly, violated the guidelines," she said.

The assistant secretary refused to allow Lauer to categorize such broad coverage as propaganda. On the contrary, she noted, openness is the U.S. military's way of countering Iraqi propaganda.

"We're going up against people who are masters of lies and deception and denial," Clarke said. When such lies are broadcast on television, in newspapers and on the Internet, they can quickly gain an air of truth and become believable, she explained.

"It's one thing for us to stand up and truthfully say, for instance, that Saddam Hussein has put civilians next to military assets or vice versa," Clarke continued. "It's another thing, and it's a powerful thing, for NBC or CNN International to demonstrate to the world that he is doing that with their own pictures and their own words."

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