|The Media in Operation Desert Storm
During the Vietnam war, many blamed the media coverage for the lack of popular support for our policy in Southeast Asia. Although studies since then by both the media and the military found that the coverage did not cause our "defeat," there are many who still believe the press corps slanted and distorted the horrors of war before the eyes of the American public.
In Desert Storm, the military constrained the reporting by the media to unprecedented levels. Besides protecting information about troop movements and battle plans, the Pentagon is restricting information thought to be "detrimental to our policy" in the Gulf. Everything filmed by the journalists in Saudi Arabia must be reviewed by U.S. military personnel and certain information is being withheld by these censors. Media wishing to cover a story must receive permission from the military and then are assigned to a "media pool" of several reporters to cover the story, which must give the story to any journalist requesting it.
Coverage of the war, despite the restrictions, has been massive. In the opening days, the Cable News Network took advantage of its large staff and international capabilities to bring out the first dispatches direct from Baghdad along with numerous other exclusives the other three networks could not obtain. As the war progressed, the "big three" networks began to regroup and dispatched large teams into the Gulf region, but the initial defeat by CNN established the 10-year-old network as the main source of news to many concerned about Desert Storm. CNN's coverage is now watched for information not only by our own military, but by Saddam Hussein as well.
Many reporters broke off from the media pool to bring stories from the front lines unedited by military censors once the ground war commenced. CBS was in Kuwait City before the allied troops and was able to scoop all other networks with live footage of the liberation. The military was preoccupied with the massive ground operation and given the remarkable success of the campaign, did not track down those reporters who broke the rules.
While some reporters found it was easiest to operate without the pool, four journalists from CBS who broke out of the pool were abducted by the Iraqis and taken back to Baghdad as prisoners. The four, led by CBS reporter Bob Simon, were repeatedly beaten and malnourished by their captors, proving the point that the military repeatedly emphasized about the dangers of the battlefield to members of the media. The four were released following the cease-fire agreement.
At home, the debate about the controls over the media will continue well after the war, thanks in part to the attention given it by the media. Polling data suggests that most Americans understood and did not mind the constraints that were placed on the reporting of the war. However, a growing segment of population is concerned that the censorship may be hiding the facts necessary for a democracy to function.
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