If the United States goes to war in Iraq, two major campaigns
will be under way.
One is the military air and ground war, designed to topple Saddam
The other is the public relations campaign of the military and
the Bush administration to win public opinion at home.
The press - print and electronic - is going to play an immensely
significant role in all this. Journalists in their hundreds will be
clamoring to cover the war. They will come not only from the US and
Britain but from dozens of other countries and from news
organizations ranging from The New York Times to the Japanese press
to Egypt's Al-Ahram and the Arab Al Jazeera TV network.
While the Iraqis may permit a handful of correspondents into
Baghdad in the hope of manipulating them, most journalists will be
attempting to cover the war from the American side. Thus many news
organizations are setting funds aside for war coverage, suiting up
their war reporters with flak jackets and chemical warfare outfits,
and sending them to media boot camps being run by the Pentagon.
The Pentagon's primary concern is the American press, which will
substantially mold US public opinion about the course of the war.
But major conflicts lie ahead between military and press because the
two have entirely different agendas.
The press wants to get as close to the action as possible,
chronicling both victories and setbacks, and painting a picture of
war as stark and ugly as it sometimes can be.
The military, for security reasons, seeks to cast a veil over
ongoing operations, but also wants to shape press coverage of the
war in a favorable light.
Since World War II, which most correspondents on the allied side
viewed as a conflict between righteousness and fascism, the
relationship between journalists and the military has changed.
In the Vietnam War, reporters enjoyed about as much freedom as
possible to link up with front-line units, either South Vietnamese
or American. Like many another reporter, I could head out to
Saigon's Tan Son Nhut airport any day I wanted, and hitch a
helicopter south to the Delta, or a C130 north to Pleiku or Danang,
to accompany any unit on almost any kind of operation it was engaged
This led to a mass of "rice-roots" reporting, sometimes negative,
that the military brass did not welcome. Many high-ranking officers
vowed that such freedom would not be allowed in later conflicts. …