Dying for the Truth: The Concise History of Frontline War Reporting

By Eberhard, Wallace B. | Journalism History, Summer 2018 | Go to article overview

Dying for the Truth: The Concise History of Frontline War Reporting


Eberhard, Wallace B., Journalism History


Moorcraft, Paul. Dying for the Truth: The Concise History of Frontline War Reporting. Barnsley, South Yorkshire, U.K.: Pen and Sword Military, 2016. 358 pp. $34.95.

It is, we suggest, time to add a word to the familiar adage about death and taxes being always with us. The word to consider is "war."

And the title of the book under review says that the author has tackled the writing of a concise history of how wars, both major and minor, are reported from the battle's edge-an ambitious, formidable, and worthy task. The subject of the media and war has not been ignored by media historians, but few have attempted to put an overview between covers.

Professor Moorcraft is the latest to attempt such an overview. To say he is well qualified is an understatement. He has covered wars off and on for forty years. In between he has worked for print, radio, and TV. And, in his introductory statement, he lets us know that he has worked for the press's sometime enemy: the government. In this case, the list includes the U.K. Ministry of Defence; the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst; and the U.K. Joint Services Command and General Staff College. Yes, he's British. He is director of the Centre for Foreign Policy Analysis in London and visiting professor at Cardiff University's School of Journalism, Media, and Culture Studies.

He is frank about the potential conflict of interest involved in covering war (the government) and working for that same government. Being a "poacher turned gamekeeper . . . was sometimes uncomfortable" (p. xiii). A dozen or so books on military history and the media and war carry his name.

This book, he says in the introduction, "probes a deep-rooted struggle: between the media and the military in which one side trumpets freedom of speech and the other trumpets the security of the state" (p. viii). That said, the introduction sets out other goals connected to the historical approach to a recurring government-media issue.

The ten chapters include the "Early Days of War Reporting," "The World Wars," "The Cold War," "African Sideshows?," "The Middle East and Afghanistan," "The Long War [Afghanistan since 9/11]," "The Mechanics of Reporting Peace and War," and "The End of Heroes?"

As in most media histories, William Howard Russell is given the title of "the father of modern war reporting." His reporting of the Crimean War in the 1850s exposed wretched preparations for combat, living and sanitary conditions beyond deplorable, and questionable judgment on the part of all in the British government down to those leading the battle. This news was not, predictably, well received in London, but it did outrage the public and nudge the government to improve the conduct of the war. Russell's status later turned from outcast to near heroic, when his efforts were recognized. …

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