In front of a packed audience at Luce Hall, a distinguished group of journalists and military officials discussed the relationship between the military and the media in times of peace and war Thursday night.
The panel evaluated the similarities between the Vietnam War and the recent war in Iraq, and experiences of the media in each situation. Members also spoke of the ethical issues journalists face with regard to military matters, and the difficulties they face in providing quality coverage.
“What we saw in the war with Iraq was a television war — instant,” panelist Gen. (Ret) Bernard Trainor said. “This was real time, and that’s how people got their info, to be honest. That’s how you got your picture of the war.”
Former Under Secretary of the Air Force and panelist Townsend Hoopes agreed with the other panelists on the parallels between Vietnam and Iraq and stressed the value of the press in times of war.
“The press has a constitutional duty to keep the people informed,” Hoopes said. “We all understand the consequences for society if there is no free press.”
Professor Stanley Flink ’45 mediated the panel and stressed the difficulty in finding a balance between news reporting and matters of security.
“Finding the balance between satisfying the public’s need to know and respecting the responsibility of intelligence agencies and the military to guard sensitive information is an ongoing concern for journalists, one that is all the more critical in a war against terrorism,” Flink said in a press release. “How do you maintain truth-telling in the face of security precautions?”
Trainor discussed these inherent differences between the military and the media, and said the differences can often lead to conflict between the two institutions.
“I think you have to understand there’s institutional friction between the military and the media,” he said.
He explained that a military man is “a secretive and conservative individual,” in contrast to the “liberal and intrusive nature of the typical wartime journalist.” He said this conflict can lead to misunderstanding and difficulty in communication between the two parties.
The panel also discussed their ideas concerning preemptive war and military attitudes in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world.
“I found that the Marines [in Iraq] had this attitude that they were there to protect their hometown neighborhood. It was a very different soldier that was fighting in Vietnam,” panelist and veteran journalist George Wilson said. “There hasn’t been a war for territory since World War II. We are now in a war for men’s minds.”
Wilson also recounted his experiences as an embedded journalist in the Iraq conflict. He said he often did not have ample opportunities to interview Iraqi citizens due to the fast-moving pace of the convoy he was traveling with and a lack of translators. But the reactions he was able to get from the Iraqi citizens were often surprising, he said.
“I found that [the Iraqis] had these great expectations of [the United States],” Wilson said. “[But] I never thought that the [U.S.] Government would understand Iraqi culture.”
Panelist James Hoge, editor of Foreign Affairs Magazine, discussed the impact that wartime has on other foreign policy concerns.
“When you are engaged in conflict, it reduces the true effort given to other policy concerns,” Hoge said. “One of the plans of American policy is [to value] human rights, [but there is very little going on about] the violations occurring in China and Chechnya.”
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