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Why Are CNN, ABC, and NBC Reporters Embedding With the Israeli Military?

The news networks have been allowed to tag along with the Israel Defense Forces in Gaza—under certain conditions.

Screenshot of ABC News video
ABC News’s Ian Pannell reports from inside the Gaza Strip.

On November 4, CNN broadcast a report on the Israel-Hamas war that was unlike any of its prior coverage: Jeremy Diamond, a White House correspondent for the cable news network, was actually on the ground in the besieged Palestinian territory. And he was there thanks entirely to the Israel Defense Forces, with whom he had embedded—on certain conditions.

“Journalists embedded with the IDF in Gaza operate under the observation of Israeli commanders in the field, and are not permitted to move unaccompanied within the strip,” said Becky Anderson, introducing Diamond’s report. “As a condition to enter Gaza under IDF escort, outlets have to submit all materials and footage to the Israeli military for review prior to publication.”

Diamond was among a small number of journalists, including ABC’s Ian Pannell and NBC’s Raf Sanchez, who had also embedded with the IDF after agreeing to terms set by the military. While this is not the first time that U.S. reporters have embedded with foreign militaries, it has reignited a debate about the ethics of the practice—especially when media organizations aren’t fully transparent about the terms they’ve agreed to, and when an unprecedented number of these reporters’ professional counterparts in Gaza are being killed in the onslaught.

ABC News did not disclose the terms in their reports, and they did not respond to requests for additional information about these terms. NBC and CNN have been more forthcoming in their reports—though spokespeople for both organizations declined to comment on the record to TNR when asked for more detail about the terms.

In Sanchez’s segment, which aired on NBC Nightly News on November 6, he said, “As a condition of joining them, we agreed to blur some faces and show Israel’s military censors our raw footage, though not our final story.” The accompanying story on NBC’s website says, “NBC News was able to accompany the Israeli Defense Forces into Gaza under conditions that prevent us from using images of lower-rank military personnel. NBC News did not allow the IDF to view any finished stories.”

Diamond, meanwhile, elaborated on the subject on CNN’s podcast about the war, saying he was asked to delete one piece of footage that showed sensitive military technology. “Beyond that, [they] asked us to blur images of maps, faces of soldiers, and anything that could potentially compromise the location of this specific base. But these are typical conditions, when any military takes you with them into a combat zone,” he said.

Sig Christenson, a military reporter for the San Antonio Express-News who was formerly embedded in Iraq and Afghanistan, agrees that such conditions—obscuring information that could lead to soldiers’ harm—are standard procedure. “We agreed to live by some rules which were pretty sensible rules,” said Christenson, a co-founder and current chair of the nonprofit Military Reporters & Editors. “Like, you don’t tell people where exactly you are. You don’t tell your readers or your viewers exactly how many troops you are with—those are sensible rules.”

But he also noted that transparency about these rules is paramount.

“Those organizations are obligated to tell their readers and their viewers what the restrictions are,” he said. “If you fail to disclose that, you’re really doing everyone a disservice.”

This is not the first time a CNN journalist has been embedded with a foreign military; in 2016, its journalists embedded with Iraqi special forces. This precedent notwithstanding, some have criticized CNN for accepting the IDF’s terms. “This is not journalism,” Jeet Heer, a national affairs correspondent at The Nation and former TNR staff writer, wrote on X. Shailja Patel, a writer and activist, called CNN “officially an IDF propaganda outlet.” And Trita Parsi, the executive vice president of the Quincy Institute and occasional TNR contributor, wrote, “In other words, CNN has agreed NOT to be an INDEPENDENT news outlet.”

Helen Benedict, author of The Lonely Soldier: The Private War of Women Serving in Iraq and a professor at the Columbia Journalism School, noted in an interview that “the original purpose of embedding was to control journalists.” She and Christenson both referenced Phillip Knightley’s classic 1975 book The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero, Propagandist, and Myth Maker From the Crimea to Vietnam, which describes how the government invented embedded journalism in response to critical coverage of the Vietnam War. In a chapter added in 2004, Knightley wrote that as civilian casualties in Afghanistan passed 5,000, “the Pentagon sought a media strategy that would turn attention back to the military’s role in the war, especially the part played by ordinary American service men and women. This would require getting war correspondents ‘on side.’”

Benedict explained the pitfalls of embedding with the military. Journalists, being unarmed and usually lacking in formal military training, depend entirely on their handlers for security—so it stands to reason that they’d hesitate to report anything negative about the people on whom their lives quite literally depend. “It’s very hard to have an objective, clear-eyed view of people who are protecting your life,” she said. “Your attempt at objectivity will be eroded even if you’re not aware of it.”

It also makes embedded journalists susceptible to legitimizing the military’s view of the conflict. In ABC’s brief dispatch from Gaza, chief foreign correspondent Ian Pannell turned to the wreckage of a building behind him and said, “This is one building I can show you, obviously something that was a civilian building. What the Israelis say is that Hamas have used these kind of buildings, using civilians as essentially shields to launch their attacks.” In an attempt to give context to the destruction around him, he also parrots the IDF’s justification for its wholesale bombing of Gaza, which has killed as many as 12,000 Palestinians.

Not anyone can embed with the IDF, of course. Israeli authorities have tapped a select few journalists to do so—and may well have chosen journalists whom they consider unlikely to report unflattering details about the invasion. Conversely, the government certainly has not been shy of criticizing those whom it deems overly critical of the invasion. Israel’s communication minister, Shloma Khari, is attempting to shut down Al Jazeera’s Jerusalem bureau. “This is a station that incites; this is a station that films troops in assembly areas … that incites against the citizens of Israel—a propaganda mouthpiece,” Karhi told Israel’s Army Radio. As of November 1, the move was awaiting approval from the Israeli defense minister.

Being embedded with a military can yield a one-sided view of a conflict—but not necessarily. On November 8, Britain’s Channel 4 aired a six-minute-long report by Secunder Kermani, who was embedded with the IDF and subject to similar reporting conditions to those from U.S. media outlets. His report included an interview with a lieutenant colonel, just as a CNN report had done, but he went further by also including footage of the IDF monitoring the mass displacement of Palestinians from Gaza City and an interview with a Palestinian refugee who expressed frustration and sorrow over Israel’s assault.

Jeff Jarvis, an associate professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, said that a news organization’s use of embedded journalism does not necessarily yield a one-sided narrative but that it should be a factor in judging its overall coverage. He also emphasized the importance of using Palestinian journalists and witnesses to provide a fuller picture of the war. “News organizations would be wise to broaden their perspective and their view of contributors, to try to get more material from witnesses that is not subject to the control of the military,” he said.

But Jarvis also noted the limits of embedded journalism in the internet age, especially with the rise of citizen journalism.

“For a military to think that they can have a control point on information by controlling the journalist is itself a somewhat outdated notion,” Jarvis said. “In the Iraq War, there were bloggers, and in this war, there are witnesses who can tell us what they see if they have access to the internet.” But he quickly noted internet access in Gaza is “also controlled by Israel.” Gaza has lost telephone and internet access in Gaza during some of Israel’s heaviest bombardments.

Meanwhile, dozens of journalists are among the thousands who have been killed in Gaza. The Committee to Protect Journalists has called this conflict the deadliest for journalists since the group began recording in 1992. Four Israelis were killed in Hamas’s October 7 attack, and since then 37 Palestinian journalists and one Lebanese videographer have been killed by Israeli forces.

On November 2, Palestinian TV journalist Salman Al-Bashir broke into tears on air, after learning that his colleague Mohammed Abu Hatab and 11 members of his family were killed in an Israeli airstrike. “We are victims, awaiting our turn to be killed,” Al-Bashir said. He pulled off his protective helmet and “press” vest, flinging them to the ground. “These are just slogans that we are wearing, it doesn’t protect any journalist at all.”