'Embedded' experiment earns accolades

— The sand, the food, the physical exhaustion -- NBC's Chip Reid is glad to put those behind him. But as a journalist, being embedded with a military unit during the war in Iraq exceeded his expectations.

"We had total freedom to cover virtually everything we wanted to cover," he said.

With the assignments ended for Reid and many others, the assessments of the Pentagon's embedding experiment have begun. So far, it's drawing overwhelmingly positive reviews, although some journalists cautioned it wasn't truly tested with much bad news.

"It's been an extraordinary experience for all of us," said CBS News President Andrew Heyward. "This really has been, not just a quantitative change, but a qualitative change in war journalism."

Stories from embedded reporters were often the centerpiece of television coverage, bringing the sights and sounds of war home with immediacy. In newspapers, there were many rich, detailed accounts that often worked best as sidebars to the main coverage.

From the military's point of view, embedding more than 600 journalists helped counter disinformation and burnish its image.

"The side benefit, it seems to me, is there's now a new generation of journalists who have had a chance to see first-hand what kind of people volunteer to put their lives at risk," Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld said Thursday. "And that's a good thing."

It meant one thing for the Pentagon to deny an Iraqi spokesman's claim that coalition forces weren't in Baghdad; quite another when Fox News Channel aired that spokesman on a split screen with reporter Greg Kelly riding a tank on a city street, said Bryan Whitman, deputy assistant defense secretary for media operations.

Journalists also said embedding began to turn around a hostile relationship between the military and media that had been building since Vietnam. There was a demystification on both sides, said CBS News embed Mark Strassman.

From the low point of reporters being penned in a windowless building in Kandahar, Afghanistan, so they couldn't see injured U.S. forces in the war on terrorism, the level of access permitted during the embedding process was a sea change, said Phil Bennett, an assistant managing editor for foreign news at The Washington Post.

"It was like expecting to be taken to McDonald's and going to the greatest smorgasbord in the world," said CNN's Walter Rodgers. "You could have anything you could ask for."

When officers he encountered heard from folks back home who appreciated knowing what they were doing, they went from tolerating embeds to appreciating them, said Don Dahler, an ABC News correspondent.

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