Works Cited

  1. Dell’Orto, Giovanna. “Flacks, Spooks, GIs, and Objective Journalists: Relating with the U.S. Government Abroad.” AP Foreign Correspondents in Action: World War II to the Present. N.p.: Cambridge University, 2015. 264-89. University Publishing Online. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <;.
  2. Fleming, Michael. “Censorship, Self-censorship, and the Discursive Environment.” Auschwitz, the Allies and Censorship of the Holocaust. N.p.: Cambridge University, 2014. 32-77. University Publishing Online. Web. 5 Apr. 2016 <;.
  3. Cronkite, Walter. “Reporting America at War: Walter Cronkite on Censorship.” PBS, 2007. Web. 2 Apr. 2016.<;.
  4. “The War: News & Censorship.” PBS, Sept. 2007. Web. 2 Apr. 2016. <;.
  5. Gourevitch, Alex. “Exporting Censorship to Iraq.” The American Prospect Oct. 2003: 34-36. ProQuest. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <;.
  6. Browne, Malcolm W. “War in the Gulf: The Press; Conflicting Censorship Upsets Many Journalists.” New York Times [New York] Jan. 1991, sec. A: 10. ProQuest. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <;.
  7. Bumiller, Elizabeth. “U.S. Lifts Photo Ban on Military Coffins.” New York Times [New York] 7 Dec. 2009: n. pag. New York Times. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.<;.
  8. Fazio, Daniel. “Censorship in the Korean War: Press-Military Relations, June 1950-January 1951.” Australasian Journal of American Studies 26.2 (2007): 1-19. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <;.
  9. Norris, Margot. “Military Censorship and the Body Count in the Persian Gulf War.” Cultural Critique 19 (1991): 223-45. JSTOR. Web. 5 Apr. 2016.<;.
  10. Kennedy, John F. Address, “The President and the Press,” before the American Newspaper Publishers Association, 27 April 1961. Bureau of Advertising dinner. Waldorf-Astoria, New York City. 27 Apr. 1961. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library, n.d. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <;.
  11. Stay Tuned: TV’s Unforgettable Moments – Vietnam: Denouncing the War (1968). N.p., 13 June 2015. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <;.
  12. Dead American soldier at Omaha Beach. 6 June 1944. National Archives. D-Day 70.  D-Day 70. Web. 5 Apr. 2016. <;.

The Chaos of Modern War

Since 1940, the face of war has changed dramatically. World War II had clear fronts, clear boundaries, clear uniforms, and clear aims, but every war since has seen a deterioration of these certainties. Beginning with Korea, wars were not even officially called wars anymore; they were referred to officially as “operations” or “police actions”. The enemy was less obvious as well: the North Koreans were the enemy, but so were the Chinese, even before they officially entered the conflict. Vietnam, for example, was divided into two warring regions with a DMZ in the middle — similar to France and Germany in World War II — but the fighting in Vietnam was scattered seemingly randomly throughout the country, and was not centered at the DMZ as might have been expected in previous conflicts. In Kuwait, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the line between civilian and combatant — and even the line between friend and foe — was significantly blurred. Reporters talk about how, “you could easily run into a hostile unit without knowing it, in an area that should have been okay, plus the friendly units were firing at you because they didn’t know who was who“ (Dell’Orto, 274). This shift from fighting in clear lines on a battlefield map to fighting step by step through a jungle or city to fighting with drones in the air may shed light on the changing relationship between the military and the press. Through the decades, as the definition of war has become more and more nebulous, and the justifications for war more difficult for the public to understand, the American military has been struggling more and more to win the battle in public relations as well as the one overseas. Trying to garner support for a war effort is more difficult than it was in the past, and so information on the conflict is censored to diminish the effort the military needs to exert to defend its actions. The press has a responsibility to their viewers and sensationalism to report what they can, but the fickle nature of the news means that the media storm will only last so long. Also, with the use of the internet, they could conceivably get around a government ban. With the military refusing to release certain information, and the media attempting to make the biggest splash, Americans are left with a more incomplete picture of war today than they have had in the past.

Dust Settles in Iraq

By the time America was embroiled in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, censorship had spread beyond information released to the American public to information released to all those under American control — in this case, the Iraqis. In 2003, the Iraqi Media Network (IMN) was put in place by the American government to disseminate news after the deposition of Saddam Hussein. It was “both a PBS-style broadcaster and a means for the occupying authorities to communicate with Iraqis.”5 The American occupying government was supposed to be a model for a free, democratic press, but the dangers posed by the pro-Baathist movement still present in Iraq could not be ignored, and so the IMN was also required to broadcast pro-American and anti-Baathist information. When occupying authority chief L. Paul Bremer III was appointed, he immediately shut down Iraqi news organizations as well. Major General David Petraeus acknowledged that “what we are looking at is censorship,” but justified it by adding that “you can censor something that is intended to inflame passions.”5 Later on in 2003, the Pentagon hired the Scientific Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a defense contractor, to run multimedia affairs in Iraq. According to an article in the American Prospect journal, “[a]lthough this new outfit was intended to become a kind of public broadcasting system, [t]he SAIC’s orientation was more toward information control.” The American government came under fire for this at the hands of the Index on Censorship, an international media-watchdog group, for using news organizations as a vehicle of foreign policy. The government responded by “developing an independent media commission, run by journalists rather than the U.S. Army,” but still did not allow a completely free media in Iraq. In terms of information broadcast to Americans, the information permitted by journalists was less strict than in Grenada and the Persian Gulf, but still closely monitored and edited. One debate over journalistic freedom manifested itself on the home front in 2009, when President Obama lifted the ban on photography of military coffins.7 Supporters of the president’s actions agreed with Margot Norris, and applauded him for allowing the true cost of war to be shown. Some argued that the ban was lifted simply to create unnecessary controversy, and others believed it to be an invasion of the privacy of the soldiers’ families. Perhaps Obama lifted the ban to garner support for the military as Roosevelt had done 1943, but considering that Obama’s campaign platform reflected a desire to end the war quickly (which he did in 2011), this seems unlikely.

Grenada and the Persian Gulf War

In contrast to all of the previous American military operations mentioned, the press was “simply excluded” from covering Grenada (Norris, 223)9, with all “correspondents…kept in a hotel on another island” (Dell’Orto, 269). The worry among the press with the onset of the Persian Gulf War, was that it would be, “epistemologically, a large-scale version of Grenada” (Norris, 223). Instead of banning the press completely from affairs in the Gulf, the military enacted the “pool system” of reporting, where small groups of reporters were chosen and monitored closely by the army, and of course, their stories were heavily scrutinized and censored. Cronkite criticized the actions of the military during this war, where independent film coverage was not permitted, and the official coverage was not released, including in his testimony to the Committee on Governmental Affairs on February 20, 1991. “The tape they shot,” Cronkite argues, “should have been sent back to censorship. If it couldn’t be released immediately, at least it would be held for eventual release and for history. We don’t have that history now. That history is lost to us. It’s a crime against the democracy.”3 Not only was certain footage withheld from the public, but men and women interviewed by the press had to be chosen by intelligence officers and commanders, and every article and video subject to government scrutiny. Some reporters doubted anything they had written in the entirety of the war had ever reached the American public (Norris, 230). Part of the journalists’ aggravation stemmed from the “system of conflicting rules and confusing censorship.” Sometimes, a local commander would clear a report as not putting troops in jeopardy, only to have it stopped by a Pentagon official when it reached Washington. Sometimes information that seemed risky to print was allowed to be published, and sometimes seemingly innocuous reports were classified. A 1991 article in the New York Times cites examples of reporters being denied permission to print a story, only to see the Pentagon release the same statement. The article speculates that the government wished to be the first to report the news.6 It is at this point that the clash between the military and the press seems to come to a head. Reporters, given a lack of real information to print, opted to run stories on the information being withheld rather than the information they could infer from the facts they had, stirring up public outrage against military censorship. The Columbia Journalism Review and other publications wrote that the journalists should be heroic, risk their lives and careers and defy the military’s censorship in the interest of the people’s right to know, but it rarely — if ever — occurred. Scholar Margot Norris hypothesizes that the military’s severe censorship during this war stemmed from the desire to maintain the image that the U.S. military was a “technological wizard that can win war without killing, with minimal killing, and with visually and viscerally innocuous killing” (230). This gave rise to statements from generals like that they simply “weren’t getting into that body count business” (NYT 3 Feb 1991) (229). President Bush even enacted a policy where the coffins of American soldiers were not allowed to be photographed by the media.7 Norris argues that censorship of this kind — where the body count and real cost of war was kept from the public — makes war more acceptable and “sanitized” in our modern society (231).

Vietnam War

By the 1960s, “officials [had] become tighter-lipped, embassies harder to access, and correspondents more skeptical” (Dell’Orto, 266)1. However, some of the press still had moderate freedom to report. Reports from journalists on their ability to publish their stories during the Vietnam War vary significantly from reporter to reporter. “One AP journalist was invited by MACV (Military Assistance Command, Vietnam) to go on a mission against the Viet Cong – and when he wrote the story that the targeted village turned out to have none of them [the Viet Cong], the military promptly, but futilely, banned the press from similar trips (AP Oral History, Essoyan 1997, 49–50)” (269). Walter Cronkite, perhaps the most famous news American correspondent of the Vietnam War, tells a different story. Cronkite was interviewed by PBS in 2003 about his and his fellow journalists’ experiences reporting on the Vietnam War.3 The military, Cronkite says in the interview, didn’t monitor the reporters’ interviews with the soldiers. Cronkite explains that the reporters returned to the press camp at the end of the day, and submitted whatever stories they had written to their assigned intelligence officer, who sometimes altered them. The stories were then returned to the reporters to see if the new version of the story was accurate enough for their satisfaction. “If we didn’t want to transmit it that way,” Cronkite says, “we could argue about it. Sometimes we won and sometimes we lost.” Detailed reports on casualties, troop movements, and the equipment and positions of the American forces were still prohibited, but vague reports on these aspects of the war were allowed to be released to the public. Sometimes intelligence officers would hold the report for several days until it was safe to be released, but Cronkite insists that they did eventually release all the reports. Cronkite’s comparatively free reporting in Vietnam allowed him to make significant statements against the war upon his return to the states. More restricted reporters — those who called Vietnam a “turning point in press hostility” (269) — hypothesized that the basis of this hostility on the part of military censors stemmed from the the army’s frustration at the effects the journalists’ limited war footage was having at home. This graphic footage, accompanied by statement’s like Cronkite’s, played a significant role in turning public opinion against the war.8Video

Korean War

In World War II, the news outlets themselves had made the decision to self-censor before the government had established its official journalistic code of conduct. The war in Korea — the last American war to be covered “overwhelmingly” in print media (Fazio, 2)8 — represented a turning point in which the government began to enforce censorship without the endorsement of the journalistic community, but this did not occur at the immediate outset of the war. General MacArthur released a statement on June 2, 1950, stating that he “did not desire to reestablish wartime censorship”, but instead depended on the press to adopt a “voluntary code” identical to the one they had had in World War II in order to protect the troops and keep the war effort strong. (This call for a “voluntary code” of censorship was popular into the Cold War as well. Kennedy, in a speech to the American Newspaper Publishers Association in 1961, advocated the concept as well.10Audio) Although the Defense Department had released a statement ordering the censorship of “character and movement of troops, ships, and planes…locations of fortifications, war productions figures, general weather conditions, and certain kinds of pictures and maps” (Fazio, 3), the press seemed to agree to adopt MacArthur’s “voluntary code”. For several weeks, the harmonious relations between military and press continued, until military leaders began to complain that their defeats were being too widely publicized in the media. MacArthur even announced via The New York Times on July 13, 1950 his belief that journalists were purposely exaggerating his losses. Following this statement, the good relationship between the press and the military deteriorated quickly. Several prominent journalists were banned from Korea, some on the grounds that they were giving “aid and comfort to the enemy” by reporting on the “disillusionment” of the soldiers (4). On July 22, the American soldiers themselves were ordered to “self-censor”. On July 25th, the army ordered that reporters, while not required to submit everything to security checks, were not allowed to publish “unwarranted” criticism of command decisions, and that the army would be “the sole judge and jury” on what “unwarranted” criticism entailed. Not to say that the press was entirely innocent in the affair; there were several incidents where the press abused their privilege to “self-censor.” In late 1950, a journalist caused a military blunder due to misreported timing of a Soviet ship landing in Japan. Bill Shinn, a reporter for AP, reported the movement of a South Korean general before the army did, violating express instructions not to release troop movements in the interest of getting a scoop (7). By the time the Chinese entered the war, MacArthur was no longer tolerating anything he perceived as dissension from the press, and established a Press Advisory Commission on December 18, 1950 which operated from his base in Japan. As the war in Korea went on, censorship became tighter and tighter, but by 1952, press coverage on the war was already decreasing. The story was simply becoming old news. But the damage to military-press relations had already been done.

World War II

The Office of War Information (OWI) was established in June of 1942 to oversee all of the news reported about the war, but the “Code of Wartime Practices for the American Press”, issued Jan 15, 1942 had already been adopted by all the major news organizations. John Steinbeck described the rules as “imposed and self imposed.” He said that in terms of war journalism, “[t]here were no cowards in the American Army, and of all the brave men the private in the infantry was the bravest and noblest… a great many of the things he had to do were stupid. He must therefore be reassured that these things he knew to be stupid were actually necessary and wise, and that he was a hero for doing them…A second convention held that we had no cruel or ambitious or ignorant commanders.”4 Steinbeck and the other reporters felt that they were part of the war effort just like the rest of the country. They had a responsibility to that war effort that superseded their responsibility to report completely accurately. Leaving out important information, Steinbeck argues, was just as damaging to the truth as false information. Censorship does not just include what one can and cannot publish, but how it can be published and when (Fleming, 32).2 The journalists agreed with the U.S. government that they had to defend the public from the real happenings of the war in order to prevent a panic. Similarly, they had to protect the army from criticism to as to boost morale. Towards the end of 1943, however, the government began to worry that the war effort was losing steam, and allowed images to be circulated that showed the true extent and damage of the war to bolster support for the cause. On September 30, 1943, LIFE magazine was permitted to publish the first picture of a dead American soldier that the public had been allowed to see since Pearl Harbor, along with a message of inspiration calling on Americans to defend freedom at home the way their boys were overseas.4