The Military and the Media: Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover a War

By William V. Kennedy | Go to book overview

to function effectively in an open, democratic society. It was no accident that they were all from the Army. Whether it draws its soldiers from a draft or a volunteer system, the Army must be more closely attuned to the society it serves than must the more technically oriented Navy and Air Force.

To the degree that it succeeds in insulating itself from close public scrutiny the Army will become more like its more uptight sister services and will move steadily closer to the Prussian model that brought Germany to disaster in two world wars. It will be an Army in which a Powell, a Schwarzkopf, or a Kelly would be unlikely to rise above lieutenant colonel.

At least since the early 1960s the press has been unable to assess accurately the mass of military data that was already on the public record. Given that dismal record it is difficult to see how the U.S. military leadership at the time of the Gulf War could have failed to take drastic action to limit press coverage when mistakes of assessment could have tragic consequences.

It was said ruefully, and truly, by Ron Nessen, vice president for news at NBC Radio/Mutual Broadcasting, when the degree of press exclusion became clear that "The Pentagon has won the last battle of the Vietnam War. It was fought in the sands of Saudi Arabia, and the defeated enemy was us." 2 How totally the military has gained control is described in Chapter 1.

Vietnam is indeed the watershed between the relatively open access by the press during all previous U.S. wars and the tightly controlled access imposed during the Persian Gulf War. Understanding how that happened is absolutely crucial to understanding what must be done to restructure the press so that it can regain the confidence of the American public, for it was the loss of such confidence that enabled the military to impose the controls that it did during the Gulf War.

The deep structural defects that led to the disastrous Vietnam press coverage existed long before U.S. forces became engaged in Southeast Asia and were apparent in every major military news story up to that time. These are discussed in Chapters 2 through 6. What went wrong in Vietnam is discussed in Chapter 7, and how that led to exclusion or total government management of the press in Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf is described in Chapter 8.

The establishment of a "right to lie" as official U.S. government policy during the administration of President John F. Kennedy and the elaborate systems available to pursue such a policy, made all the more dangerous by the absence of effective press surveillance, are discussed in Chapter 9. The final chapter describes what could be done if an aroused citizenry were to force the owners of the nation's major news media to address the problem.


NOTES
1.
Edwara B. Atkeson, "The Persian Gulf. Still a Vital U.S. Interest?" Armed Forces Journal International 114 ( April 1987): 46-56. See also Benjamin J. Schem

-xi-

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The Military and the Media: Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover a War
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Notes xi
  • 1 - Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover A War 1
  • Notes 11
  • 2 - The Roots of Conflict 13
  • Notes 18
  • 3 - Television: The Here, Now, and Obituary Medium 21
  • Notes 39
  • 4 - The Dailies: Shaky Bedrock 41
  • Note 58
  • 5 - The Wire Services: The Weakest Reed 61
  • Notes 71
  • 6 - The Magazines 73
  • Notes 85
  • 7 - Vietnam: The Watershed 87
  • Notes 104
  • 8 - Aftermath 109
  • Notes 125
  • 9 - Managing the "Right to Lie" 129
  • Notes 140
  • 10 - How to Defeat the "Right to Lie" 143
  • Notes 154
  • Epilogue 157
  • Select Bibliography 159
  • Index 163
  • About the Author *
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