Military Censorship of Journalism: World War II — Present

World War II

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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 They had a responsibility to that war effort that superseded their responsibility to report completely accurately.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

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