The Army and the Media

By Venable, Barry E. | Military Review, January/February 2002 | Go to article overview

The Army and the Media


Venable, Barry E., Military Review


The DOD Principles for News Media Coverage. . solidified three concepts: that open and independent reporting was the standard for combat coverage for the future that pools were to be an exception rather than the rule, and that voluntary compliance with security guidelines was a condition of access to US military forces. ... Of particular note is the recent addition of two very important concepts of which Army

leaders need to be aware: security at the source and embedding.

I have made arrangements for the correspondent to take to the field ... and I have suggested that they should wear a white uniform to indicate the purity of their character.'

-Union General Irvin McDowell THROUGHOUT AMERICAN history, the esteem that Army leaders have held for the media has changed little. Just a few years ago, McDowell's remarks would have been considered popular and applicable, particularly in the post-Vietnam era. It seems, however, that attitudes are changing. At a 1997 conference of senior military leaders and members of the media, conferees agreed that relations between the military and the media were "perhaps the best ever."2 Although certain areas of tension and misunderstanding remain, consideration, facilitation, and cooperation characterize the current state of the military-media relationship. In recent military operations, the military has accommodated the media in a manner unprecedented since the Vietnam war. The operations in Somalia, Haiti, and Bosnia provide ample evidence that the military, in stark contrast to earlier operations such as Grenada and Panama, recognizes the value of allowing the media to cover military operations. The picture is not entirely rosy, however. A 1995 study of the military-media relationship conducted by Frank Aukofer, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, and Vice Admiral (Retired) William P. Lawrence showed sharp differences between the two institutions. The source of the disagreement appeared to be the "Post-Vietnam Blame the Media Syndrome."3 In the Aukofer-Lawrence study, more than 64 percent of military officers agreed with the statement, "News media coverage of the events in Vietnam harmed the war effort."4 This great divide between the two institutions continues to plague their relationship today. It is not the continuing angst over the Vietnam war's outcome that affects the militarymedia relationship today but, rather, its derivative effect: an ingrained cultural mistrust of the media throughout generations of military leaders. To dispel this mistrust, Army leaders must understand the historical and philosophical bases of the militarymedia relationship.

Fewer than 30 reporters accompanied the entire invasion force to Normandy, France, on 6 June 1944. In contrast, more than 500 journalists appeared within hours to cover combat operations in Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989. At the beginning of Operation Desert Storm in 1991, more than 1,600 news media and support personnel were present, and some 1,500 reported on hurricane relief operations in Florida in 1992. Reporters provided live television and radio coverage of the night amphibious landing that marked the beginning of Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1992 and the end of the UN operation during Operation United Shield in 1995. More than 1,700 media representatives covered the initial phases of peacekeeping operations in the American sector of Bosnia in 1996.5

During World War II, cooperation and commitment to a common cause characterized the relationship between the media and the military. John Steinbeck, a war correspondent of the time, put this characterization into plain words when he said, "We were all part of the war effort. We went along with it, and not only that, we abetted it.116 The War Department based the World War 11 military-media paradigm on censoring and strictly controlling correspondents. American military correspondents overseas were not allowed in war theaters unless they were accredited. …

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