War-Time Coverage

By Foote, Joe | Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media, June 2005 | Go to article overview

War-Time Coverage


Foote, Joe, Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media


Seib, P. (2004). Beyond the front lines: How the news media cover a world shaped by war. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 185 pages.

Palmer, N. (Ed.). (2003). Terrorism, war, and the press. Hollis, NH: Hollis. 316 pages.

It is no surprise that several books focusing on war, terrorism, and the media would appear after the tragedy of September 11,2001, and the Iraq War. These events provide several new chapters in the annals of media's ongoing battle with governments and on the strengths and weaknesses of media coverage during times of crisis.

Phillip Seib's book, Beyond the Front Lines: How the News Media Cover a World Shaped by War is one of the best. Seib, who has had both a distinguished reporting and academic career with several books under his belt, knows just the right balance to strike when interpreting journalistic issues of the day for a broader audience. His book is an impressive assortment of well-researched, well-sourced topics that all merit attention.

Seib talks fluently about the American media's unilateral withdrawal from the scene as world news-gathering organizations, the effects of a continuing news cycle in a cable network and Internet world, the realities of reporting sanitized and preemptive wars, a critique of embedding journalists, Team Pentagon's impressive PR machine, the symbiosis between journalists and the intelligence community, the effects of technology on terrorism and war coverage, the impact of bloggers and Smart-mobbers on mainstream media, cyberterrorism, the growth and impact of Al-Jazeera and other non-Western sources of news, and how media should cover public diplomacy.

In each case, Seib provides sound, journalistic-style coverage and multiple sources to back up his arguments. Seib is consistently critical of the Bush administration's policies in this book, but the work is certainly not a polemic. Seib marshals the evidence carefully and gives attention to both sides of an issue. When he does take a stand, it is a principled, well-documented one.

Seib has judiciously edited himself so that only the most important bits that move the book forward are included. Students will find that each of his topics contains just enough information to illuminate and substantiate but never enough detail to bore or stray to tangents.

Seib's book on coverage of war and terrorism is well suited for upper division courses that concentrate on media criticism or media and society. It touches as many bases as one could possibly hope for with a topical book like this. Students will find the book readable, persuasive, and self-contained and will come away with a much more thoughtful, comprehensive view of how media have or have not responded to the challenges they have faced already in the 21st century. The only ones likely to be disappointed will be graduate students or faculty looking for a deeper treatment of the arguments or a more theoretical orientation.

Terrorism, War, and the Press, edited by Nancy Palmer, Executive Director of the Joan Shorenstein Barone Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard, is a collection of essays that were written previously over the past decade by Fellows of the Shorenstein Center and have been assembled for this volume. Dusting off some old essays and repackaging them would not ordinarily make for a stimulating, cohesive reading; however, this volume has redeeming qualities. It features a good mix of prominent journalists and academics. Because the journalists had the luxury of being in residence when they wrote their pieces, their work is far more extensive and well researched than one would expect. Nick Gowing of the BBC, for example, weighed in with 441 footnotes for his chapter. …

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