Military Media Management: Negotiating the "Front" Line in Mediatized War

By Smith, Jeffery A. | Journalism History, Summer 2013 | Go to article overview

Military Media Management: Negotiating the "Front" Line in Mediatized War


Smith, Jeffery A., Journalism History


Maltby, Sarah. Military Media Management: Negotiating the "Front" Line in Mediatized War. London: Routledge, 2012. 132 pp. $135.

Shortly after the First Amendment was ratified, James Madison published an essay in the National Gazette about the importance of a free press and whatever else "facilitates a general intercourse of sentiments." Saying that public opinion is the "real sovereign" in every free nation, he worried about views being "counterfeited" in a large country. Madison wrote, "As there are cases where the public opinion must be obeyed by the government; so there are cases, where not being fixed, it may be influenced by the government."

During much of the nations existence, historians have shown, the American government has tried to influence public opinion related to war with repressive laws, access restrictions, censorship, secrecy, and propaganda. In the last fifty years, however, officials have increasingly relied on public relations methods that need more research.

The Department of Defense annually trains thousands of public affairs specialists for the United States and other nations at the Defense Information School (DINFOS) at Fort Meade in Maryland. The school has more than four hundred faculty and staff. Alumni include political leaders and civilian journalists across the country and around the world. The one-sentence vision statement on the school's site is: "DINFOS is a recognized national asset for organizational communication success."

Since the Selling of the Pentagon controversy in 1971, little has been written about the American military's strategic communication. The Pentagon apparently prefers to keep its massive public relations operations under the radar. Few reporters cover the Department of Defense and not many are doing war zone journalism. Little questioning occurs before scandals erupt or combat situations turn ugly. The military ranks far higher in surveys of public confidence than other major institutions in American life.

Scholarship about press performance in post-9/11 wars has criticized the coverage without closely examining the information warfare maneuvers conducted by the armed forces. Sarah Maltby, a lecturer in sociology and media, has systematically attempted to look behind the scenes of the British military's media management. Using ethnographic methods and Erving Goffman's approaches to the interactions involved in meaning-making, she studied policies, methods, training, and results in fieldwork settings from early 2001 to 2010.

Maltby's investigations had limitations. She did not go to Iraq for safety reasons and was not allowed to quote specific military personnel unless the information was already in the public domain. The inability to convey statements from research subjects, government employees who are responsible for informing the public, leaves a strange and presumably unnecessary gap in the results. …

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