The Vietnam legacy of mistrust reared its head in the sands of the Middle East as the Pentagon and the press clashed over coverage of the 1991 Gulf War. Two decades earlier, the military had blamed the media’s brutal reporting for undermining the war effort in Southeast Asia-and Pentagon officials were determined not to lose control of press coverage again. As soon as the Vietnam war ended, military officials were hard at work on plans to limit media access to the next war.
If Vietnam hooked us on prime-time reports straight from the battlefield, then the Gulf War reeled us in with vivid pictures of mass destruction straight from our Stealth bombers and laser-guided smart weapons. But, as Hedrick Smith notes, “Few modern wars have lent themselves as readily to controlled access and information management as the Gulf War. The battlefield was remote. For all but a few days at the end, it consisted of an unseen air war fought many miles from and thousands of feet above the 1,300 or so earth-bound reporters who were on the scene.”
Did the Pentagon provide the media with the information the American people deserved and which a free press should guarantee? Would media demands for more access have led to situations where lives were jeopardized and the American cause was compromised?
In The Media and the Gulf War those questions are answered by experts on all sides of the issue-members of the media, the military, and the government. The contributing commentators include those who became household names during the crisis-CNN correspondent Peter Arnett, Pentagon spokesperson Pete Williams, General Thomas Kelly, leader of the Washington briefings on Desert Storm-and a host of other media and military commentators with special access, arguments and analysis. All bring forceful insight to the complicated role of the press in a free society.
“With an arrogance foreign to the democratic system, the U.S. military in Saudi Arabia is trampling on the American people’s right to know. It is doing a disservice not only to the home front but also to history and its own best interests.”
“I cannot deny that there have been problems. I know reporters are frustrated that they can’t all get out to see the troops. But I believe the system we have now is fair, that it gets a reasonable number of journalists out to see the action, and that the American people will get the accounting they deserve of what their husbands and wives, and sons and daughters are doing under arms half a world away.”
“Can the tension between the military and the media be eliminated? No, and there are no simple answers for improving relations. Nevertheless, it would be advantageous for both institutions to find a continuing, independent forum for discussion and for researching ways to better serve the public interest. Both the military and the media view themselves as professions. It would be a useful start if each viewed the other in the same light-and acted accordingly.”
-General Michael J. Dugan (retired)
“The skeptical questions reflected more than the tensions of the moment, or the usual adversarial relationship between reporters and officials. There is a legacy of distrust between the two sides because of a history of war briefings in which the initial version of events turned out to be less than the whole truth.”
-Thomas W. Lippman