02:36 - Source: CNN
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CNN Business  — 

A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. You can sign up for free right here.

Reporters who cover the US military are alarmed by a lack of access right now.

For decades, American journalists have been granted embed opportunities when American military forces deploy abroad. It has been a long and proud tradition, one that has showcased not only transparency from the US government, but the country’s commitment to a free and open press.

But, with this latest deployment of troops to Eastern Europe, something has gone awry. Reporters have been given no such opportunity to embed with the troops aimed at bolstering NATO as Russia amasses troops along the Ukrainian border. In fact, their many requests have been blocked.

Now, news organizations are increasing the pressure. In a letter we obtained, Military.com, the Military Times, and Task & Purpose write that they “strongly believe” the public has a “right to know how and what their troops are doing and how their tax dollars are spent.” The three outlets, which are circulating their letter among journalists with the hope of getting other news outlets to sign on, said that “despite numerous requests from media organizations, no journalist has yet been allowed to accompany these troops and bring their stories home.”

“As a result,” the outlets wrote, “we call on the Pentagon to immediately begin the process of allowing journalists to embed with troops headed to Europe in response to Russian troop movements near Ukraine.”

This new letter follows the Military Reporters and Editors Association over the weekend asking for the Defense Department to “allow journalists to embed with the US troops that have been selected to deploy to NATO’s eastern flank.”
The Pentagon Press Association on Wednesday wrote a letter to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan to request that they “lift the ban on news coverage of American military members deploying to Europe to reassure NATO allies during the Ukraine crisis.”

“The public in a democratic society deserves independent media coverage of their sons and daughters in uniform, and that cannot be provided today without first-hand, on-the-ground reporting of troop activities in Europe,” read the letter, which was signed by the Pentagon Press Association board of directors, which includes CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr.

“Who or what is holding that decision?”

These requests from news orgs to embed aren’t going nowhere. They are landing on someone’s desk. So who is blocking them?

The Military Times’ Howard Altman pressed Pentagon press secretary John Kirby on the matter Tuesday. “The American public has an absolute right to know how and what its troops are doing and how taxpayer dollars are being spent. Can you tell me when journalists will be allowed to embed with troops going over to Europe? And if not soon, who or what is holding that decision?”

Kirby said that he is “responsible for decisions that are made about media access to our operations and to our people.” He said that “the buck stops with” him and that the Pentagon is “working our way through what would be the appropriate level of media access here.”

But not all reporters are buying Kirby’s line. Some reporters suspect that the White House’s National Security Council is resisting embedding…

A horrible precedent

The fact that reporters are being barred from embedding with forces as they simply deploy to Europe to bolster NATO countries does not bode well for the future. What if the US were to engage in a more dangerous military campaign in the future? If journalists can’t watch troops station in Europe, what happens when they go on more threatening or sensitive missions?

Handout photos and video and updates from government spokespeople cannot replace reporters on the ground, collecting information for themselves and observing the state of affairs with their own eyes and ears. And the Biden administration, which promised high levels of transparency, should be pressed on this until they grant access to news orgs…