News reports out of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam came from embedded reporters, complete with battlefield photographs of our troops in action. Starting with the Vietnam war, however, war reporting took a sudden and unexpected twist. Prior to Vietnam, war reporters were inducted into the military and the news reports were subject to military censorship. Reports of the war were more propaganda than factual. Consider reporting out of the South Pacific in WWII as an example. Americans were not aware that the war against Japan was going very poorly in the early days until long after the war had ended.
Vietnam changed all that, and not for the better. Reports from the battlefield were far more accurate, but they also included for the first time images of American soldiers being killed in battle. As reports showed greater realism, American sentiment towards the war turned sour. We as a nation stopped using the news media as a propaganda tool and instead attempted to accurately report on the war. It was in Vietnam that American reporters first took the view that they had to be "impartial observers."
President Bush (41) changed that in the first Gulf War. Reporters were still allowed to cover the war, however their reports were subject to military censorship. Many people remember Bernard Shaw reporting live from Baghdad the night the war started. What people may not remember was the call that was placed from the Pentagon to CNN stopping them from reporting the locations that were being attacked. News from Iraq for the remainder of the war had to pass through not only Iraqi censors, but also US military censors.
That's as it should be. No reporter should be able to issue any war-time news report that is detrimental to the US war effort. War-time reports should be subject to military censorship. What people don't seem to want to accept is that our military is not at war, our nation is. Every one of us is fighting this war against terror and that includes this war in Iraq. That's the problem the media has created, though. By propagating this concept of American reporters being "impartial", they've created the notion that it is possible to be an American but not be at war with Iraq. That's the biggest difference between today and the wars we fought prior to Vietnam.
When it comes to war reporting, the news media should be more propaganda than factual. The media should be championing American successes in war, not over-emphasizing the failures. Morale plays a big role in the success of any war effort, both at the troop level and at the national level.
The biggest mistake made in the war in Iraq was the decision to allow embedded reporters to accompany our troops into battle. These reporters are not subject to military censorship, although there are guidelines around what they can report so as not to reveal troop movements or battle plans. The problem is, these reporters still think they can be - or worse, that they should be - impartial. There is no impartiality in war time. It really is a black and white situation. There are only two categories - friend or foe. Given the type reporting we've seen, especially from papers such as the New York Times, today's media would have to fall solidly in the "foe" category.
The war on terror and the war in Iraq will ultimately be won by the American people, not just our military. To win this war, however, the American people must recognize that we are as much a part of the battle as is the military. The news media must also come to that same realization. At the very least, however, the media must once again be constrained by military censorship for war-time reporting. They have proven beyond doubt that they cannot be trusted to report responsibly with the best interests of the United States in mind.
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