The media should only be censored to protect troops at war. Politicians should not use their power over the media to enhance their popularity. Because the first President Bush and his administration did not want the First Gulf War to be “another Vietnam,” they restricted the press’s access to information to the press (Greenberg 7). Although Americans have the right to freedom of speech, government makes many rules governing the media’s access to wars, and can control the press. Therefore, it is easy for the government to control the public’s views of a war.
Though its control of much of the information provided to the press, the government can mold the public’s perspective. Although, freedom of the press (and the broader freedom of speech) is in the First Amendment to the Constitution this right contracts during war because wartime situations often create challenges to normal press freedom (Lahav 1). Due to the dangers of war, people believe that “necessities of war require some limitations on news reporting,” (Dennis 8). Due to “national security,” the president of the United States may withhold information that could endanger the troops (Dennis 8).
Censorship of the media during war has happened in America since the Civil War (Dennis 8). In the Civil War, the media was considered an annoyance rather than a threat to national security.
However, as technology has become more powerful, from telegraphs, to radio, to television and the internet, more people have access to the information. When Geraldo Rivera broadcast the position of American troops during the second gulf war, her showed the modern media’s potential for irresponsibility.
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During the war in Vietnam, many people died for reasons not immediately connected to our country’s security. Eventually, the citizens of American “turned against the United States military” because the people glimpsed what was happening in Vietnam (Greenberg 7). The Vietnam War was considered the first time “public opinion” became a significant factor in forcing the government to make peace, or from another perceptive, or to acknowledge defeat (Greenberg 7). During the First Gulf War, the Bush Administration was “sensitive to public opinion” and set ground rules for the media (Greenberg 7). The Bush Administration may have been concerned not only about the protection of the overseas troops, but also about the upcoming election and the administration’s popularity.
The government wrote the rules and regulations for the media. There were twelve categories of information that should not be reported. The categories ranged from information about the troops, to future missions, to the “effectiveness or ineffectiveness of [the] enemies’ camouflage” (Dennis 17). Everything the reporter produced whether written, on videotape, or in photographs went to a security review system (Dennis 18). The First Gulf War used “pools” of reporters to share information with the media. Only a few reporters could visit an area which allowed the government greater control over press access to information (Greenberg 30).
The government and military was also able to limit and shape the specific messages to the media, and thus, to the public (Greenberg 7). Information went back to the Joint Information Bureau (JIB) who determined what could be broadcasted. Although the procedure was to review the reports for “sensitive security information,” the Joint Information Bureau rejected photographs of United States coffins, photographs of the bombing in Iraq, and even reports on General Norman Schwarzkopf’s body weight (Greenberg 31).
The government interfered with the freedom of the press because of the government perception of the greater good. The photographs were rejected so that the people of the United States would not be demoralized by the visible evidence of United States’ casualties there actually were. The government was also leery about photographs in Iraq after the bombing because it did not want to let the world see bombed out cities. General Norman Schwarzkopf’s weight had nothing to do with national security. The Joint Information Bureau abused its role to protect national security information and instead provided only the information that the government wanted the world to see.
The reviewing process also consumed time, which made information stale by the time was released. The military may have been more concerned with “their image [and] looking good” than it was about keeping citizens informed (Greenberg 43). Although the reporters did not like the process, they had to obey procedure. If the reporters did not obey the rules and regulations, the reporters were shipped out of the area and possibly blacklisted (Greenberg 30).
The media became tools for the government public relations campaign. The media became biased by dehumanizing the Iraqis as evil terrorists and portraying Saddam as a “new Hitler” (Taylor xiii). Americans did not get the views of the Iraqi people. It did not seem like we are killing humans, but only evil terrorists. The media wrote the United States what they knew it would get published such as young men getting off their jets after a mission. The military wanted to show off the brave young men and the best technology the military has to offer. By glorifying the United States’ troops and technology, citizens of United States were united and made proud to be Americans (Greenberg 46).
The United States did not look good however, when reports were broadcast bombing the road to Basra. On March 30, 1991, thousands of “fleeing Iraqi soldiers” was targeted for “bombing, strafing, and shelling” (Barnes 1) The Iraqis did not put up any resistance and many did not have weapons. The Iraqis were caught in a “deadly trap and left in a mile-long graveyard” (Claiborne 2). One allied air force officer called the mission a “turkey shoot” because the Iraqis were unable to escape the bombardment (Barnes 1). The military did not want be perceived as killing innocent people and look like the bad guys. When asked how many Iraqis were killed during the operation, General Colin Powell replied that he was not interested in the number (Barnes 1). The military was discrete about the operation because they did not want to bury itself in a deeper hole with the public.
The government does not censor information only because of self-interest. Information about future missions and the location of soldiers should not be leaked. If some censorship did not occur during war, the soldiers could always be endangered. Also, true National Security information should not be released to the public as well. This information may cause hysteria if not withheld. Government officials may have the experience to know what information needs to be kept from the public.
However, the government often seems to worry more about its self image than informing the public. When the reporters are escorted and supervised by public affairs officers, the military escort seems more concerned with the soldier’s remarks to the reporter than to the safety of the reporter and the soldier. Being constantly under surveillance, reporters are unable to see unrehearsed military activity and have one on one interviews with the soldiers (Dennis 19). In these situations, the government abuses the power since it is not using censorship to protect the troops.
Censorship is needed only for true National Security purposes. The Government should not use the media for their own self-interest. However, since the term National Security is loosely defined, the government is able to win lawsuits against the media. If the citizens of America become more informed about the governments control over the media, the regulations of press may become more few and more valuable. The government and military should not withhold information because the public creates hatred for the enemy because the information given is one sided. Determining when the government is acting to protect our soldiers, as appose to our politicians, is challenge of to patriotic citizens.
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