Academic journal article Military Review

Get over It! Repairing the Military's Adversarial Relationship with the Press

Academic journal article Military Review

Get over It! Repairing the Military's Adversarial Relationship with the Press

Article excerpt

Professional journals descended into Southeast Asia to give the American public first-hand views of the horrors of war. These journalists were met with excessive classiation and contradictory reports from the "five o'clock follies. "From the vantage point of its living room, the American public was instantly aware that their sons were dying at an alarming rate and that previously heroic notions of warfare did not apply.

DESPITE TECHNOLOGICAL advances in both warfare and media communications since World War II, the military-media relationship has shown marked regression. A news-minded public has demanded a competitive, fast food-style, 24-- hour media that provides instantaneous updates. Yet, even as the media has evolved, the military's reaction to the press refuses to rise above a pouting post-Vietnam adversarial relationship.

There is no doubt that the media can enhance military efforts. Few argue that the military does not need public understanding, support, and funding. And most can recite the constitutional need for a press free to report on those with guns. Yet, current military leaders who were in diapers during the Vietnam war still act like temperamental poster children for uninformed antimedia sentiment. Their angst is fueled by hearsay, moldy facts, and stories handed down from generation to generation. Bluntly, the military has missed the boat and continues to miss opportunities to use the media to shape positive public support for the military.

The Military-Media Continuum

American military history illustrates the collapse of the military-media relationship. The Revolutionary War first displayed the American public's odd relationship with the military-odd because the public was the military. The Continental Army's challenge was to raise public support and solidify public opinion. The infant press helped General George Washington forge the public's will to win and establish a people's army by distributing pamphlets and exposing truths about British rule.

By World War I, technology had expanded coverage, increasing pressure on journalists. As the United States mobilized for war, the Committee on Public Information was formed to sell the war to end all wars and to maintain public support. Effectively, this was a form of censorship that successfully maintained public support for the war. Parents sent their sons to the good fight and were rewarded with sanitized clips of U.S. successes.

World War H's total mobilization began with strict censorship laws in place. Military public affairs pundits responded to radio's addition to the expanding news-reporting media by mandating a growth of propaganda. The Office of War Information was formed to inform the American people about the war. It made early use of journalists embedded within ground units. News reports from these journalists were often subject to heavy censorship, but they were successful in maintaining American public support for the war effort.

The Korean conflict served as "a transition period when reporters still had fairly good access to combat troops, with some limited censorship as the conflict progressed."' This censorship was created by the military in response to the media's criticism of UN commanders and is alleged to have caused the media's hypercoverage of President Harry S. Truman's firing of General Douglas MacArthur.

If Korea was a sporadic skirmish between the media and the military, Vietnam was full-scale warfare. Unprecedented amounts of professional journalists descended on Southeast Asia to give the American public first-hand views of the horrors of war. These journalists were met with excessive classification and contradictory reports from the "five o'clock follies." From the vantage point of its living room, the American public was instantly aware that their sons were dying at an alarming rate and that previously heroic notions of warfare did not apply. As public support for the war waned, the military turned its anger toward the agency that had exposed its flaws-the press. …

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