The Troubles of Journalism: A Critical Look at What's Right and Wrong with the Press

By William A. Hachten | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 11
The Press and the Military

The first casualty when war comes is truth.
-- Sen. Hiram Johnson ( 1917)

The Persian Gulf War -- the short but intense conflict between Iraq and coalition Western forces led by the United States -- lasted only 42 days, but it changed, for better or worse, the way that future wars will be reported. Television and especially CNN turned much of the world into a global community witnessing a televised real-time war as the brief struggle evolved from armed confrontation to spectacular aerial bombardment and finally to lightning ground action. The war became the biggest-running global news story in years, and the telling of it utilized the full resources of the U.S. news media and much of the international news system. More than 1,600 print and broadcast journalists and technicians were in Saudi Arabia along with many others in Amman, Baghdad, Tel Aviv, Nicosia, as well as Washington and London, two major news hubs.

It was a great television show. But this unprecedented news story provoked a bitter controversy among the U.S. press, the White House, and the Pentagon over how the war, any war, was to be reported.

The role of the war correspondent has changed greatly because of vastly improved communication technology, more skepticism of and abrasive relations with the military, and an increase in the number of reporters covering the same war.

War correspondents are a kind of specialized foreign correspondent -- they work abroad under difficult and often dangerous conditions, and are often subject to restraint or censorship, often from their own government's military, not usually from a foreign regime. In the Gulf War, the press strongly believed that it had been barred from fully covering the war in the traditional ways of the past.

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