During the United States’ military action in Grenada, a correspondent from the Washington Post disappeared. For days, Washington Post Associate Editor Karen DeYoung called the White House and Pentagon but found no answers. Finally, it emerged that the reporter had spent the last three days locked in a room. He had not been captured by the enemy. He was being held by the United States.
DeYoung recounted this story Thursday night as part of a panel titled “The Role of the Media in the War on Terror,” where a five-person panel of journalists and politicians described the complexities of journalism during wartime. Strobe Talbott ’68, former deputy secretary of state and current Brookings Institution president moderated the discussion. Talbott headed the Yale Center for the Study of Globalization for one year before departing for Brookings this past summer.
Lt. General Bernard Trainor, former director of the National Security Program at Harvard University, explained why the media and military clash.
“The military tends to be secretive. The media tends to be intrusive,” Trainor said. “The media is liberal. The military is usually conservative.”
Trainor said unlike coverage of military action in Afghanistan — where reporters had limited access — journalists covering any future action in Iraq would have more opportunities for reporting “on the ground.”
Trainor also described the military’s new system for handling the media — ‘imbedding.’ In imbedding, reporters are assigned to a military unit and go through some military training with the unit. Trainor said the purpose is to make the reporter identify with the soldiers and provide more sympathetic coverage.
New Yorker magazine reporter Seymour Hersh said the media has shied away from asking questions about U.S. actions that might have caused animosity in the Muslim world.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays and Talbott criticized the media’s priorities, especially its downplaying of international news.
“I think that the American press, in a way that is appalling and almost mystifying — has pulled away from the world,” Talbott said.
DeYoung said the media sometimes chooses sensationalism over substance when determining coverage.
“How come we went so crazy over Gary Condit?” DeYoung said. “Because we do pander. We do get carried away on silly things.”
Several panelists praised the responsibility of the media in reporting sensitive information about military actions.
“The press has a pretty good record of not printing things that put our troops in jeopardy,” Trainor said.
After each guest gave an initial statement, the panelists fielded questions from the audience, sparking debates that became heated at times.
At one point, Shays said America cannot win the war on terrorism if it treats the terrorist actions as crimes rather than acts of war.
Hersh said he disagreed.
“What do you suggest we do then? We give up due process,” Hersh said. “There’s something called the Geneva convention. There’s something called international law.”
Audience members said they found the panel informative and were pleased with the diversity of views.
“I think it’s good they felt comfortable enough to address their differences,” Jessica He ’05 said. “Any amount of contentiousness was based on ideas. It wasn’t personal.”