Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

Covering the Wars

The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been deadly for those who have reported on them: hundreds of journalists and other media staff have been killed while covering combat operations, in retaliation for controversial wartime coverage, and in vehicle crashes while reporting, for example.

In addition, thorough and unbiased coverage of the wars has been especially challenging for a number of reasons. In Afghanistan and during the first decade of war in Iraq, the US military controlled access to combat zones with the “embed system.” In addition, it has produced more of its own material than ever before that puts the military’s own spin on the war before the international and domestic public. The military has also restricted access to combat zones, such as during the 2004 Fallujah siege, during which officials denied press and humanitarian organizations access to the city altogether.

Finally, coverage of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been sparse compared with the number of Americans involved in fighting them, the importance of the story to the well-being of each country involved, and the resources that Congress has allocated to the effort each year. 

Key Findings

  • Hundreds of journalists and other media staff have died covering the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan wars.

  • Coverage of the wars has been sparse and in some cases lacks objectivity given the power and extent of military public relations efforts and war zone controls on reporting.


  • The Pentagon should adopt a policy of unrestricted media access to combat zones during current and future wars.

  • Congress should reduce the Pentagon budget used for public relations efforts where these have had the effect of distorting public understanding of the nature of the wars.

(Page updated as of June 2021)