The relationship between war and media coverage was presented by the Center for Ethics and Values last Wednesday.
The “War and Journalism” symposium featured journalism and English department speakers, who addressed issues regarding censorship, military cooperation and ethical questions that arise when wars are covered from the historical and contemporary perspective.
“All governments seek to manipulate information and news about war,” said Melissa Wall, associate professor of journalism. Wall began the discussion with her presentation, “Censorship, Cooperation and (not much) Criticism: How The Media Cover War News.”
The spectrum at which the manipulation occurs varies, she said. Some governments use manipulation of war coverage to promote their point of views, while others concoct fabricated stories and to the extreme of spectrums. And even others resort to killing journalists to prevent them from presenting their view of the war, said Wall.
Wall stressed early in her presentation that all governments are guilty of media manipulation during times of war, even the United States.
“Our government is the best at manipulating war news, we have sophisticated operations, we spend the most resources, we are the best,” said Wall.
She traced the evolution of media war coverage, beginning with World War I, where journalists were censored by the U.S. government and prevented from going to the frontlines. This era of censorship inspired many of the literary works depicting WWI including that of a young Ernest Hemingway, Wall said.
During World War II we saw the incorporation of the journalist into the war effort, where many journalists were embedded into the frontlines and even became decorated for their valor for serving with the troops, said Wall. Ernie Pyle became one those distinguished war correspondents, whose popular columns focused on the infantrymen. This was also the beginning of self-censorship, she said.
“Journalists were self-censoring before government censorship,” said Wall.
Edward R. Murrow, a pioneer of broadcast journalism who was one those self-censoring journalists, was one of the first to hear about Pearl Harbor but refrained from broadcasting the news to the American people, she said.
Murrow and Pearl Harbor was a clear example of the dilemma journalists are faced with in deciding what you hold back versus what needs to be known, Wall said.
The highlight of Wall’s presentation was her explanation as to why the media is far more restricted in war coverage today. The turning point came during the Vietnam War, where the military blamed the outcome of the war on the media’s all access to the frontlines and troops when in fact, public opinion doubted the war first, and not the journalist, said Wall.
Vietnam would forever change the landscape of war coverage, she said, and the government issued media blackouts and lottery pools to control the amount of information made available to journalists.
Since the beginning of the Iraq War, 127 journalists have been killed, said Wall. To solve this problem, many media companies commission Iraqi journalists to cover the war.
English professor Charles Hatfield spoke on the impact of war cartoons and the reemergence of the citizen-soldier. Hatfield’spresentation, “War Cartoons and Their Lesson,” focused on the work of war cartoonist Bill Mauldin.
“A calculated attempt to show a dose of reality, a version closer to the day to day reality of a foot soldier,” is what Mauldin depicted, said Hatfield.
Hatfield said the lesson learned from Mauldin’s war cartoons can be seen in the use of blogs, which have been created by members of the military and those involved in the current war. These blogs provide a variety of perspectives on the war, including those blogs sponsored by the military, he said.
The last presentation of the symposium by Daily Sundial publisher Manley Witten detailed the war correspondence of the Mexican-American War from New Orleans daily newspapers.
“It’s amazing when you back at the danger and hardship,” said Witten in regards to dedication of the Mexican-American war correspondents.