The Media and the Gulf War

The Media and the Gulf War

The Media and the Gulf War

The Media and the Gulf War


America's attention focused on the Gulf War as briefings and bombings filled the airwaves and pictures and stories filled the print media. But did the American people receive the information that a free press should guarantee?


When I was a Moscow correspondent for The New York Times in the early 1970s, during the dictatorship of Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev, Americans used to ask me what it was like to operate under censorship. Many pictured me passing dispatches through a slit in the wall to anonymous agents in airless offices who would scan every line, every word, for dangerous meaning and then redline offending paragraphs, sentences, and adjectives.

"Officially, there is no censorship," I would reply. "No Soviet official examines my stories before I send them. I communicate with our New York and London offices directly by telex. Sometimes, when I have just had a meeting with a prominent dissident like Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn or Andrei Sakharov, I notice that my telex keeps breaking down, or disconnecting, or garbling words and sentences -- as if some gremlins in the Kremlin, reading my messages, were so offended that they interfered with my communications lines. These nuisances come and go, and I never know whether they are my imagination or Soviet malevolence. I have no official censor assigned to me. But there is something worse."

Then I would explain that the most effective censorship of all is not the deleting of words, sentences, and paragraphs but the denial of access -- stopping information at the source before I could learn it, simply putting 40 percent of the country off-limits to American and other Western reporters, and in the other 60 percent, simply shutting reporters off from contact with Soviet officials and intimidating ordinary citizens so they would not dare talk with foreign reporters. I learned that the Iron Curtain was at my fingertips.

The Foreign Ministry had an Information Department, but we could never get any information from it -- not if Khrushchev died, or there was a huge fire on the outskirts of Moscow sending smoke billowing over the city; not if there was a Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, or if we simply wanted to know in advance what time Fidel Castro . . .

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