The Military and the Press: An Uneasy Truce

Article excerpt

The Military and the Press: An Uneasy Truce. Michael S. Sweeney. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 2006. 302 pp. $24.95 pbk.

Historically, military leaders and journalists have had a tense relationship at best. After describing the dichotomy between the military's desire to keep information from the enemy and journalists' efforts to disseminate information, Gen. Dwight Eisenhower reportedly told a reporter that military leaders and journalists have a joint responsibility to reconcile those divergent goals. As his book's title suggests, Michael Sweeney examines the history of this uneasy relationship, pointing out failures and successes in the efforts of both sides.

This book is the latest dealing with the history of war coverage and censorship for Sweeney, who is chair of the Department of Journalism and Communication at Utah State University. His previous works detailed war correspondents' front-line experiences and the workings of the Office of Censorship during World War II.

The Military and the Press focuses on press portrayals of America's wars and the interaction of those portrayals with public opinion; the relationship between the military, press, and government; and what the American media should do in modern warfare. The press coverage of twentieth-century wars receives the most attention, although the first chapter traces the history of war coverage beginning with the Mexican-American war in 1846, the first war covered extensively by professional war correspondents. Sweeney also examines the relationship between the First Amendment and war coverage.

Sweeney's book describes the adventures and accomplishments of such early press luminaries as photographer Matthew Brady and correspondent Richard Harding Davis. The book also deals extensively with varying coverage restrictions imposed by the military during different wars. Sweeney also provides an extensive discussion of the propaganda and censorship work of the British, French, and Germans early in World War I, as well as the efforts of the Creel Commission following U.S. entry into the war. In later chapters, he compares these heavy-handed tactics during World War I with the less oppressive actions taken during World War II.

In two chapters, The Military and the Press recounts the relative cooperation between the media and the military during World War II. Sweeney describes how the U.S. government separated war information from censorship and secured voluntary cooperation for censorship efforts from domestic media outlets. At the front, military commanders had broad authority to censor information. Sweeney discusses how commanders censored some information but generally tried to help correspondents cover war action. For their part, journalists voluntarily withheld some information and generally supported the war effort. …