PS 475, Lecture Outline: Media Coverage of War


I.           Intro: News coverage of war and military interventions raises several normative, empirical issues and historical issues

A.        Normative: What is the appropriate role of media in times of war?  Mirror? Watchdog? Lapdog? 

B.        Empirical: What role do the media play in times of crises and war? 

1.         Do they change roles when covering elections versus crises and military interventions, from, say, watchdog to lapdog and patriot?

C.        Historical: When media reports both sides of the issue and reporting is negative, as in Vietnam, how do we explain this? 

II.          Censorship in Gulf, Iraq wars: the experience of VN was used to justify censorship in the Gulf War that was tighter than WWII and Korean War. Experience of “embedded” journalists in Iraq war. 

A.        Were censorship rules designed to protect military secrets or produce favorable coverage? In what ways can  censored news coverage created serious distortions of the reality of war?

B.        Structural biases operating in war coverage that tend to create positive news from the perspective of the Pentagon

1.         Official sources

2.         News experts, backdrops 

3.         Visuals

4.         Dramatization, Personalization biases

5.         Role shift from Watchdog to Patriot 


III.        Lack of Censorship in Vietnam War:
Daniel Hallin, The Uncensored War:  study of newspaper and television coverage of Vietnam War between 1961 and 1973.

A.        Two views of media’s role in Vietnam.

1.         Pentagon officials: Media lost the war.

2.         Press: crusading journalists were uncovered lies and distortions of the US govt. about the failures of the war that the govt tried to cover up. 

3.         Why did press coverage become more negative in the first half of 1968? 

B.        Conclusions: Did media "lose VN?"  Would censorship of this uncensored war have changed things?

1.         Violate military secrets?

2.         Diplomatic damage?

3.         Domestic front signaled weakened resolve to enemy?

4.         Comparing public approval of wars in Korea and Vietnam

5.         Soviet invasion of Afghanistan 

IV.       Bennett’s Theory of Indexing: American journalists “index” the range of voices and viewpoints in both news and editorials according to the range of views expressed in mainstream government debate about a topic

A.        Testing the theory: Jonathon Mermin examined coverage in NYT, ABC and Lehrer News Hour in 8 post-Vietnam interventions


V.        Overall Conclusions:   

A.        Does media coverage of war give us a distorted picture of the actual war. Why or why not? 

1.         Does censorship create more opportunities for Presidents to abuse power? 

B.        Examples of news coverage of the invasions of Grenada, Panama, and Libyan bombing.