BY 1939, five major daily newspapers had fully-staffed European
offices and over 700 Associated Press, International News Service,
and United Press reporters were overseas: The print, photo, and
radio reporting of World War II was responsible for bringing the
war home to the American people.
"It is hard to recapture the flavor of that time for
generations with a different view of patriotism and national
purpose, and a far more negative view of warfare as a national
undertaking than was prevalent in the 1940s," writes Alan Fern,
director of the National Portrait Gallery. Indeed, reporting the
war was part of this national undertaking.
For the generation now reaching adulthood - too young to
remember even the Vietnam War - timely war reportage has become the
realm of television.
"Up-to-date" now is equated with live coverage, as seen during
the Gulf war. In light of modern media, it may be difficult to
grasp the pivotal role newspaper correspondents played in shaping
the public's sentiment about World War II. "Reporting the War: The
Journalistic Coverage of World War II," an exhibit of artifacts,
photos, paintings, posters, videos, and cartoons, succeeds in
capturing the flavor of that time, and journalism's role in the
The wartime sacrifices the public was asked to make were
far-reaching during World War II: shortages of food, clothing,
appliances - not to mention a national draft. "One of the
fundamental components of this exceptional national discipline was
the role of the press and the other communications media in keeping
the American public informed about the war, so that they could
understand why they were being made to undergo such considerable
sacrifices," Mr. Fern observes.
Many reporters and their editors found it difficult to maintain
their integrity (and to maintain their restraint in wanting to
scoop other papers) while refraining from publishing information
useful to the enemy. Often, exact locations, accurate casualty
reports, names of ships, and the size of fleets and troops could
not be reported.
Between the Office of Censorship (which encouraged
self-censorship) and the Office of War Information, the government
tried to maintain security.
Foreign censorship also thwarted many reporters, who became
frustrated when they could not report a complete and honest story.
William Shirer, a radio correspondent for CBS in Berlin, had
promised himself that he would only stay as long as he could report
enough of the story to make the truth. Eventually, German
censorship eliminated so much of his broadcasts that he resigned.
Shirer recalls on video receiving a telegram from CBS radio
management: "`Shirer, we want you to remain in Berlin even if all
you do is to broadcast Nazi communiques.' Well, I picked up the
phone immediately through Geneva and said, `You've got to get
somebody else to read Nazi communiques. …