Commentary and links relating to media coverage of war; both before, during, and after.

William A. Dorman is Professor of Government at California State University, Sacramento, and has taught a course in War, Peace and the Mass Media since 1970.

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War, Peace, and the Mass Media
Wednesday, February 18, 2004  
 Disappearing the Dead:
Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Idea of a "New Warfare"

Project on Defense Alternatives Research Monograph #9
Carl Conetta
18 February 2004

Blog editor's note: This is a fascinating and timely new study of the Pentagon's efforts at "perception management" during recent wars and a consideration of the challenge such efforts now face because of media coverage outside Pentagon control, particular in terms of non-American news organizations. You can read the report on-line, or download an Executive Summary and/or a full copy by going to Project on Defense Alternatives

(Excerpt from the introduction to the Executive Summary):

During the course of the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts the US Department of Defense (DoD) conducted "perception management" campaigns that obstructed the public's appreciation of the wars' human toll. The casualty issue was not alone in suffering such treatment during the prologue to the Iraq conflict. Distortion and miscalculation affected the official discourse on many of the key issues surrounding the war, including: the nature, magnitude, and immediacy of the threat; the likely financial cost of the war; the troop requirement for both the combat and post-war phases of the operation; and the difficulty and expense of post-war reconstruction and stabilization efforts.

The casualty issue is one of strategic import. In addition to US and allied losses, approximately 18,000 Afghan and Iraqi combatants and non-combatants were killed during the main combat phases of the two wars. (About one-third of the total were non-combatants.) This toll bears directly on (1) the threat environments in post-war Iraq and Afghanistan; (2) the regional and global reactions to US operations, (3) the prospects for building multinational security cooperation on Iraq, Afghanistan, and terrorism; and, (4) the appeal, influence, and growth of terrorist organizations and extremist movements.

Official efforts to shape the public's appreciation of the issue may have included the pre-war placement of suspect stories meant to cast doubt on subsequent casualty reports. During the wars, perception management included efforts to "spin"or frame casualty incidents and stories in ways that minimized their significance, cast doubt on their reliability, or shirked responsibility for the occurrence of casualties. DoD and armed services officials often (but inconsistently) refused to divulge casualty estimates, although relevant intelligence was available at every level ranging from the Office of the Secretary of Defense down to field units.

8:12 AM

Monday, February 16, 2004  
Administration adept at keeping journalists at bay

David Shaw:
Media Matters
February 15, 2004

Blog editor's note: Shaw is a leading press critic for the Los Angeles Times. What follows is an excerpt from a recent column. It offers an interesting comparison to the one by Getler at the Washington Post in the preceding item. To read all of Shaw's column, see Los Angeles Times

" seems to me that a confluence of circumstances and events (the tragedy of 9/11, the public's growing disdain for the media, the growth of alternate news forms and forums, the Bush administration's scornful attitude toward journalists) have made the traditional media more compliant — and have enabled the Bushites to ride roughshod over them.

"The president's declining poll numbers and growing partisan criticism of and public skepticism over his rationale for war in Iraq may change that. The media may feel emboldened to challenge Bush more aggressively, and he may feel compelled to be more cooperative — as witness his "Meet the Press" appearance.

"But so far, the Bush administration has been especially successful at stonewalling the media, keeping the White House team "on message" and all but abandoning the traditional presidential press conference."

10:13 AM

Not Everyone Was Wrong

By Michael Getler

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Two recent events and one that unfolded 30 years ago come to mind this week as some readers and I focus again on the question of whether this country was led into war on false premises and, if so, how and why did it happen?

Let's assume that a positive outcome in Iraq is possible, and that many of the people who write to me on this subject are opponents of the Bush administration. But whatever one's politics, it is hard to think of an issue more basic to a democracy. And it is hard to think of issues more fundamental to national security than intelligence that seems to have been far off-base and that contributed to a decision to go to war, or the possible misuse of that intelligence through a false but assertive sense of certainty by an administration, if that turns out to be the case.

The pursuit of this story by the press -- as opposed to government and government-appointed groups -- may be one of the few avenues that we as citizens have to get as close to the truth as possible.

For the rest of Getler's analysis dealing with the intelligence "failure" in Iraq and the role of the press, see Washington

10:05 AM

Sunday, February 15, 2004  
Journalist 'felt like a sitting duck'
A dangerous place for interviews gets much more so fast

Associated Press
Friday, February 13, 2004

FALLUJAH, Iraq -- I was standing in an open courtyard as three explosions boomed nearby and machine guns rat-a-tatted in response. It didn't take a genius to figure out I had a problem.

But what to do?

During six minutes of continuous gunfire, blazing from directions I could not discern, I thought more than once: Should I be doing something? Like ducking for cover or slipping into a doorway?

For the rest of this account of what it's like to cover today's Iraq, see Star-Ledger

7:54 AM

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