More on the Military and the Media
Kroesen, Frederick J., Army
It took only one rereading of last month's column to realize that there is more to say on the subject, the military and the media, probably a lot more. But one glaring omission from what was written is concern over classified information divulged to the world by zealous investigative reporters who believe they know best what the American public "has a right to know."
Going back again to World War II, we had policies that charged military censors with the responsibility of preventing the publication of information that would or could be helpful to the enemy. We had news media people who fretted about over-control, unreasonable restrictions and improperly applied limitations, much of the time justifiable, as the censors chose always to err on the side of caution. But we had also the practice of informing reporters in advance of pending major events-the D-Day landings in Normandy, Operation Market-Garden in the Netherlands-thus allowing them to prepare their advance coverage in return for their promise not to attempt to reveal such plans prematurely.
A general appraisal of that system would report that it worked quite well; the American public was well enough informed by Edward R. Murrow, the "March of Time" and other news programs while the sensitive news was denied the enemy until it was too late to be useful. But the news media were not in agreement, insisting that First Amendment rights of a free press were violated and that they, after all, professionals in the field, were as trustworthy with sensitive information as any group of military censors. So, over time, with Congress and the courts involved, things changed.
Twenty years later we fought in Vietnam under the watchful television cameras and with reporters who found all the negative news necessary to afford North Vietnam with what some of us claim was the incentive to continue the war until we would quit. And 20 years after that war ended, the professionals met the assault landing across a beach in Somalia with klieg lights and cameras that betrayed the operation long before its execution. (Scuttlebutt has it that disappointment over not having scheduled an air and naval gunfire preparation was a mistake that would not be repeated in the future.) In Iraq, after an encouraging spate of good news dispatched by the embedded reporters, the professionals have once again reverted to providing only bad news from Baghdad as the major news outlets find suicide bombings, numbers of casualties and a disgruntled man on the street as the only newsworthy subjects. …