A Century of Media, a Century of War/The War in Iraq and Why the Media Failed Us/Killing the Messenger: Journalists at Risk in Modern Warfare

By Fraley, Todd | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Winter 2007 | Go to article overview

A Century of Media, a Century of War/The War in Iraq and Why the Media Failed Us/Killing the Messenger: Journalists at Risk in Modern Warfare


Fraley, Todd, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


* Andersen, Robin (2006). A Century of Media, a Century of War. New York: Peter Lang. pp. 350.

* Dadge, David (2006). The War in Iraq and Why the Media Failed Us. Westport, CT: Praeger. pp. 193.

* Foerstel, Herbert N. (2006). Killing the Messenger: Journalists at Risk in Modern Warfare. Westport, CT: Praeger. pp. 161.

Journalism has been referred to as the first draft of history, and three recent books present unique perspectives to help readers understand the burden of this responsibility. As Andersen argues, "when democracies go to war, a free press must serve as a witness, documenting the conduct carried out in the name of the public" (p. 11). Moving beyond simplistic criticisms searching for liberal or conservative biases and easily discarded conspiracy theories, A Century of Media, The War in Iraq, and Killing the Messenger merge critical analysis with strong historical research to lay bare the unraveling of a watchdog press during times of war. This process has left the public with a sanitized version of war void of death and destruction. Each author offers an important and distinct approach and concludes the current media environment is a moment in history marked by challenges to press freedoms and consequences for democracy.

Andersen's careful historical account moves from the propaganda techniques of World War I to the "militainment" era surrounding the current U.S./Iraqi conflict and demonstrates how war emerges as an acceptable practice in contemporary democratic society (p. xviii). This lengthy discussion connects the military's sophisticated media management strategies with public knowledge shaped by media representations of war that are distinct from war itself (p. xv-xvi). Andersen reminds us of a marred history in which "there is no single war that the government did not lie about" (p. 164) and explains how advertising, news, and entertainment eliminate dissent and sell war as culturally tolerable and necessary.

By following the facts presented, the reader understands Andersen's contention that war, once defined at the most basic level by suffering and death (p. xvii), now appears relatively harmless thanks to smart bombs and justifiable accidental deaths in the fight for good over evil. Whether discussing Vietnam's My Lai massacre, the all but forgotten Korean conflict, the Iran Contra Affair, the invasions of Grenada and Panama, or torture at Abu Ghraib, this book exposes how the "reality of war remains hidden" (p. 257). Adding interesting analysis of entertainment fare like Top Gun, Black Hawk Down, the Jessica Lynch story, or the videogame/recruiting tool America's Army, Andersen provides valuable perspective on a media system operating as a flag-waving conduit for the government.

Despite these shortcomings of U.S. media, individuals are risking their lives in an attempt to offer a frustrated public an honest and informed examination of global issues and conflict. Foerstel's Killing the Messenger focuses on these personal risks and dangers confronting war correspondents in the post 9-11 era. This media history argues that with the press directly affecting war and peace, journalists have become primary targets on the battlefield. Accepting the fact that they are now considered enemy combatants and increasingly under attack, many war correspondents still value the idea of an independent fourth estate and answer the call.

Weaving personal tales of abduction, reports from the Committee to Protect Journalists, and insight from media professionals, Foerstel tells their stories of success and tragedy. With thorough accounts of the U.S. attack on Al-Jazeera's headquarters and the torturing of foreign correspondents by coalition forces (both defended by claims of "serious military activity inside Al-Jazeera"), or of Western journalists struggling to prove to "insurgents" they are not CIA operatives to avoid or end captivity, a clear picture of hazards involved in documenting war emerges. …

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