WASHINGTON (AP) _ Attaching journalists to U.S. military units headed for battle may become an official Pentagon policy, the Defense Department's spokeswoman said Tuesday.

Victoria Clarke said Pentagon officials were so pleased with the results of embedding about 700 journalists with troops in the Iraq war that they want the program expanded in future conflicts.

``I am quite confident that people feel so good about this process that they would want it to continue,'' Clarke said at a discussion of Iraq war coverage at the Brookings Institution think tank.

Clarke said military officials liked having reporters along because it allowed the American public to get a better view of what was happening and a better appreciation for the military. The reporting also countered Iraqi propaganda and dampened second-guessing of the war by American commentators, she said.

Journalists at the forum said they liked the arrangement because it gave them access to the front lines they otherwise might have lacked.

``It broadened the lens on the battlefield,'' said Terence Smith, media correspondent for PBS' ``The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.''

Allowing television journalists to report live also was a plus, said CNN's Bob Franken, who accompanied a Marine Corps unit into Iraq.

``That really stopped in its tracks a lot of the censorship,'' Franken said.

Making an official Pentagon policy to have reporters accompany combat units would be a significant and positive change, said Marvin Kalb, a former television journalist and professor at Harvard University's Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

``Everyone was lucky the formula worked, and it worked in part because the war was a short one,'' said Kalb, who was in the audience at the Brookings forum. ``But if the war had gone on longer, if U.S. casualties had increased, ... I'm not sure the enthusiasm for the embed process would be as high as it is now in the Pentagon.''

Clarke said she would like to see more reporters accompany U.S. troops in the future, especially journalists from other countries. The Pentagon had been ready to allow more journalists to go with U.S. military units, but news organizations didn't have enough money or people to fill more slots, Clarke said.

Clarke is resigning as assistant defense secretary for public affairs Friday for personal reasons. She said she expects the Pentagon will continue to allow reporters to be sent with U.S. military units.

``Transparency works,'' Clarke said. ``The good news gets out. The bad news gets dealt with quickly.''

Franken said he and other embedded reporters had to guard against coloring their reporting because of allegiance to the military units they accompanied.

On another subject, Clarke defended the military's handling of information about the capture and rescue of Pfc. Jessica Lynch. Inaccurate and overblown stories about Lynch did not come from military officials, Clarke said.

``We were downplaying it,'' Clarke said. ``We weren't hyping it. We weren't spinning it. We don't do that.''

A Washington Post article published Tuesday quoted military officials as saying Lynch killed no Iraqis and was neither shot nor stabbed herself. An early version of her story was based on intercepted Iraqi transmissions which spoke of fighting by a female American soldier, the Post said.

Clarke said she had ordered that very little information be released about Lynch and other U.S. prisoners of war out of respect for the prisoners and their families.

___

On the Net: Pentagon: http://www.defenselink.mil

Brookings on session: http://www.brookings.org/comm/events/20030617.htm