Debating War and Peace: Media Coverage of U.S. Intervention in the Post-Vietnam Era

By Jonathan Mermin | Go to book overview
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Three
Grenada and Panama

THE UNITED STATES invaded Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989 on the grounds that forces in those countries had endangered American lives, threatened the United States with Communism (in Grenada) or drug trafficking (in Panama), and refused to practice democracy. Foreign-policy experts and engaged citizens in the United States debated these premises. Had American lives been in real danger? Could other means have been found to protect them? Had the objective of stopping Communism or drug trafficking required a full-scale military intervention? Could unilateral military action, even in the name of democracy, be justified under international law?

Discussion of media coverage of the Grenada and Panama invasions tends to focus on official restrictions on the press.1 U.S. forces barred journalists from Grenada for three days and obstructed those who tried to get to the island. The Pentagon flew a pool of reporters into Panama but held them on a military base for several hours until the heaviest fighting had ended. These efforts at censorship certainly affected the ability of the media to report what was happening on the ground. But they should not have stopped journalists from gathering information about Grenada and Panama from sources in the United States, and from questioning experts and citizens about the wisdom and justification of U.S. policy.

News coverage of the Grenada invasion, Iyengar and Simon assert, “tended to propagate the worldview and policy preferences of the [Reagan] administration.”2 Bennett describes a continuum from “open information flow” to “closed information flow” and declares that Grenada and Panama “fall toward the closed end of the continuum,” where few critical perspectives appear in the news and “there is little ground established for evaluating policies or holding officials accountable.”3 Yet neither Iyengar and Simon nor Bennett offers evidence that the coverage of the

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1
See, for example, John R. MacArthur, Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War (New York: Hill and Wang, 1992).
2
Shanto Iyengar and Adam Simon, “News Coverage of the Gulf Crisis and Public Opinion: A Study of Agenda-Setting, Priming, and Framing,” in Bennett and Paletz, Taken by Storm, p. 183.
3
W. Lance Bennett, “The News about Foreign Policy,” in Bennett and Paletz, Taken by Storm, p. 21.

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