Reporters, like politicians, are
reluctant to tell the truth about war; and that ever more dangerous
circumstances are driving them away from the front lines into the
practice of 'rooftop journalism.' TV reporters, whether they
like it or not, are participants as well as witnesses.
Therefore journalists should embrace 'the journalism of
attachment' - a journalism that cares as well as knows.
Covering war is never easy for many reasons. Apart from physical dangers to reporters, there is the inherent problem of having to make quick judgments about events and people, often on incomplete or one-sided information. This is complicated immeasurably by distant editors, diplomats, inexperienced human rights advocates or politicians listening to special interest groups that push imbalanced propaganda or slick public relations campaigns. In three conflicts I covered in the 1980s and 1990s, one side was always at a disadvantage internationally because of this: The Indonesians in East Timor, albeit perhaps the least deserving of charity, the Muslims in Kashmir and the Sinhalese in Sri Lanka. Not that the latter two had stellar human rights records either. But their adversaries, Indian forces in Kashmir and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam in Sri Lanka were far more brutal, something someone who didn't see events on the ground would not know.
The security situation in Iraq has deteriorated to the point that foreign reporters can no longer move about freely. There are only a few ways to cover the news there. One is to attend news conferences and staged events in the Green Zone. Another is to invite Iraqi sources to come to the news organization’s compound. Another is to use Iraqi surrogates to report and conduct interviews. The last is to embed with the U.S. military. Each of these methods comes with its own set of ethnical problems. For instance, it’s often dangerous to invite Iraqi sources into the compound, because they may be seen entering or leaving and marked as collaborators with Americans. By the same token, news organizations run the risk of inviting an informer into their midst, someone who can tell insurgents the compound’s location and its guard structure. This presentation will examine the difficulties of reporting under such circumstances, and the question of whether news obtained in these ways can be credible.
Journalists covering war and politics face difficult decisions about what to report and how. Their dilemmas derive from various allegiances they may feel—as journalists, as citizens, and as human beings. How can they sort out these potentially conflicting loyalties and the duties they may imply—to truth, to their own nation, and to a just world? I examine these problems and look for some solutions.
I examine several
aspects of the so-called "Information War" to see where and how the
interests of sound journalism and successful government policy are
compatible and where they are not. Possible areas to explore
include embedded journalists, U.S. government efforts to help build
or strengthen a free press in countries in the midst of conflict,
and U.S. government efforts to affect, directly or indirectly
through other media, the struggle for "the hearts and minds" of the
people of a nation in the throes of conflict.
In his book War is a
Force that Gives Us Meaning, New York Times reporter Chris
Hedges describes war as an un-redemptive "myth." In Warrior
Politics: Why Leadership Demands a Pagan Ethos, Atlantic
Monthly journalist Robert Kaplan describes war in Machiavellian
terms, to be judged by potentially virtuous ends rather than
inevitably compromised means. This presentation will examine these
two accounts of just war and others like them to suggest trends in
how just war thinking is mediated though war journalism today.
When covering war, journalists serve as witnesses. Their reporting reflects this, incorporating reporters’ impressions and judgments. On a larger scale, news organizations, individually and collectively, help determine public and government agendas through their decisions about what events and what aspects of events merit coverage. Journalists must decide on their level of involvement. Among the questions to be answered are these: Should they encourage a particular response from the news audience? Should they work with NGOs and others to affect the course of events? Should they participate in legal proceedings, such as those of war crimes tribunals, and, if so, should they set aside journalistic duties such as not revealing confidential sources? Overall, should individual journalists move from witness to participant in ways that may change and even endanger the role of all journalists who cover conflict? Emerging from consideration of these matters might be some ideas about how to ensure that journalism can do a better job of both informing the public and serving the interests of justice.
Overall, the role of
U.S. journalism -- from the Gulf of Tonkin to WMDs -- has enabled
the White House to drag the United States into war on the basis of
deceptions. The conceits of “objective” journalism and the pretenses
of wide-ranging punditry have failed to give the public a
comprehensive set of key facts and analysis prior to war. What is it
about major American news outlets that makes them so susceptible to
manipulation on behalf of war? Exploring candid answers to this
question is essential for the integrity of journalism and the future
The nature of warfare is constantly changing, but today's
battlefield is still a lethal environment where both soldier and
journalist often find themselves working along side each other.
Asymmetric warfare and low-intensity conflict, as well as the
proliferation of new technologies and mediums that influence the way
in which individuals are choosing to receive their news have placed
additional stress on the relationship between the military and the
media. This is all transpiring in a complex communication
environment in which opposing forces are trying to leverage
information in order to influence strategic outcomes. In
combination, all of these factors have had an effect on the way in
which journalists obtain access to the battlespace and report on
U.S. military operations.
The nature of warfare is constantly changing, but today's battlefield is still a lethal environment where both soldier and journalist often find themselves working along side each other. Asymmetric warfare and low-intensity conflict, as well as the proliferation of new technologies and mediums that influence the way in which individuals are choosing to receive their news have placed additional stress on the relationship between the military and the media. This is all transpiring in a complex communication environment in which opposing forces are trying to leverage information in order to influence strategic outcomes. In combination, all of these factors have had an effect on the way in which journalists obtain access to the battlespace and report on U.S. military operations.
Logo by Paul Wang