ATbar Telewar Lessons of News Management in the Gulf Wars

Telewar Lessons of News Management in the Gulf Wars

19/06/2003 | by Ben-Zedeff, Eviathar H. (Dr.)  
As of mid-April 2003, some fourteen American and other nationals, including women, lost their lives on the battlefield, as well as in Iraqi cities, while covering the Gulf War (Operation Iraqi Freedom). A heavy price, indeed, was paid by the media, in order to cover the creation of the new Iraq. This is the highest price ever paid by the press for covering such a short war.

Above all, this war on Iraq, (the third in the Persian Gulf),[1] will be remembered as the “Media’s War.” The United States’ Department of Defense, Joint Chiefs of Staff and the four American armed services, have not released much information on the open and undercover operations against Saddam Hussein and his Ba’athist regime. The American military is keeping its plans close to its chest, as well as measures already taken to achieve the strategic aim of democratizing Iraq, in order to halt its conventional and non-conventional threats to the Middle East and worldwide. Thus, when journalists have no access to the actual facts on the ground, they occupy themselves with their favorite subject - the media itself.[2]

A democracy has an obligation to defend its citizens. Maintaining peace and national security is a state’s first test. A regime cannot maintain its legitimacy if it fails this test. However, a state is also the custodian of its citizens’ political and human rights. Free speech and freedom of the press are essential values requiring constant nurturing. Sometimes these values conflict and a specific kind of system is needed to balance them. It would seem that there is no ready prescription for solving this dilemma. At times, national security and/or calming the population is the prime concern and at others, political and human rights should take priority. Balancing contrasting values is a sensitive task which needs to be dealt with by each society in accordance with its history, values and conception of the threats which it faces. There are various solutions to the problem of balancing contrasting values in wartime and in peace. States move dynamically from one constellation to another, according to their international relations.

The recent Gulf War is the third war fought by the USA since the decline of the war in South-East Asia.[3] In Gulf War III, a large number of units: infantry, marines, naval forces and aviators from the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and coalition forces, were again engaged in fighting Iraqi troops.

Gulf War III presented us with a new term in media-military relations - the “embedded journalists” - namely, journalists who join military units as war correspondents for the duration of the war. This article will examine whether anything has changed in media-military relations in the post-Vietnam War era, by studying US media-military relations as they evolved during the last quarter of the twentieth century.

The Vietnam Hangover

How did the hostility between the US media and military establishment, termed by Ike Pappas of CBS television “The Vietnam Hangover,” develop? Many would say that it evolved after the American evacuation of South-East Asia. A careful evaluation of official documents, histories, memoirs written by soldiers and journalists, as well as academic works, lead to the conclusion that this antagonism began in the 1960s, especially after the US invasion of Cambodia (1970). Frustrated by the debacle in South-East Asia, the American military decided to make the media the scapegoat. On the other hand, jubilant after the Watergate affair, the US media believed itself to be all-powerful and invincible. Both establishments adopted the false notion that the media was responsible for forcing the American military to withdraw. Therefore, in order to win, the military establishment sought stricter control over the media in military affairs.[4]

However, research of media-military relations during the Vietnam War, does not reveal that the above-mentioned myth is false.[5] Media coverage of the forces and the war was positive, but it was influenced by the political rifts in the US political and military elites regarding the conflict. The political aspect of the war was the central issue, influenced by the turmoil in the mid 1960s-early 1970s in America. Furthermore, the introduction of TV into the battlefield, brought the war into everyone’s living rooms, thus influencing the anti-war movement without the intention of being pacifistic. The rule of thumb says that only people with combat experience really understand what is shown to them. For others, war footage is a gory, frightening spectacle. Since most Americans have not served in the military, they see war as a dangerous state of affairs and would like to prevent it. Thus, in the interests of good public relations, the military must portray war in a different light.

The myth that the media coverage forced the American military out of South-East Asia is false, since it does not take into account the leadership, doctrinal, organizational and other problems which hindered American involvement in the region. Public relations were a minor problem for the Americans in Vietnam. However, it seems that this myth brought about a decision-making process which led to a new approach in media-military relations during the Reagan and Bush Administrations in the 1980s. This was intended to prevent the so-called Vietnam syndrome. Namely, that the media would never again be in a position to force American troops to withdraw or loose a war as a result of news coverage. Consequently, the Pentagon and the U.S. military have formulated ground rules for media operations on the battlefield.

News management is feasible when the fighting takes place in a remote, secluded area that is not accessible by public transportation (a “closed war”), as in the Caribbean Island of Grenada, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, etc. In an “open war”, as in Lebanon, Somalia, Panama, etc., the media do not require military approval to cover the war. The military, therefore, has less control over the news. On the other hand, in a closed war, by supplying correspondents with transportation and accommodation, the prospects for better news management are far greater.

From the late nineteenth century until the Vietnam War, the US military had an accreditation policy: it authorized certain journalists and media to join the fighting units, on condition that they submit their copies for censorship in the field, in order to prevent information leaks and breaches of security.[6]

Since the American Revolution, US Generals have endeavored to prevent the media from reporting news freely from the battlefield. They wanted their units protected from the enemy and tried to prevent public scrutiny of their operations. History tells us that since 1776, freedom of the press has been curtailed in every war waged by the Americans. According to Wm. M. Hammond, in a democratic society, such limitations on the press are mutually agreed upon by the military and the media.[7]

US media-military relations peaked during the Vietnam War. Since then, advanced technology in telecommunications, satellites and computers, have facilitated the media’s reportage in real time, both in the civilian and military spheres. Military operations are, therefore, more exposed now to the public, as well as to the enemy.

The Invasion of Grenada

The US invasion of Grenada in late October 1983 (Operation Urgent Fury) should be thoroughly examined, since the events which occurred thereafter sent a message in respect of US military might and its desire to manage the news in wartime under the slogan “No More Vietnam.”

In 1974-1982, dozens of articles dealing with media-military relations were published in professional American military periodicals. This author assumes they reflect the wave of discussions and think-tanks which took place in US military academies and the armed forces relating to the media’s performance on the battlefield in historical, legal and organizational perspectives. In 1982, the American military internalized the conclusions drawn by the British and Israelis in dealing with the media in the Falklands and Peace for Galilee campaigns respectively (mid 1982). Yet, from the many articles published in professional American military periodicals, a vague picture emerges of an original American approach to media-military relations. The American way was to leave commanders and units free to deal with their military missions by excluding the media from the battlefields. From remarks made by senior officials to the effect that the Administration should not have to fight the enemy and a hostile media simultaneously, we can conclude that media coverage was left to the decisions of President Reagan (as Commander-in-Chief) and the Pentagon.

When the US commenced the operation, they had a successful media plan. For the first days of Operation Urgent Fury, the US military decided to prevent the media from entering the island and the operation was covered by US Army and Marine Corps media teams.

Despite the operational plan, on the very first morning of the operation, the Pentagon requested Admiral Joseph Metcalf, Jr., the Commanding Officer, to allow 400 journalists to enter the island, due to heavy media pressure brought to bear on the Reagan Administration. Admiral Metcalf refused and continued with the original exclusion plan. According to his own written testimony he gave an order to shoot and sink any boat with journalists aboard, who tried to break the blockade of the island. Journalists were kept aboard USS Guam in order to prevent them from filing their stories. Three days later, the Admiral permitted a heavily escorted group of approximately fifteen journalists to enter island. On the sixth day of the operation, he allowed journalists easier access to Grenada. After about a fortnight, all limitations were lifted but by then there were no troops on the island.

Admiral Metcalf’s bold implementation of his media plan transformed the invasion of the Caribbean island into a closed war. The American and international media had to rely on CB operators and/or their sources in the Pentagon. The American media claimed that the military had something to hide from the public, and perhaps was even lying about the invasion. The old theme of the reliability gap had again been raised by the media. However, the public supported the Administration’s anti-media policy. The Reagan administration, as well as the military, claimed that the media was misrepresenting military operations and that it was hostile to the Republican administration. Yet, the Reagan administration had succeeded in totally changing the public agenda, and garnered public support for its policies despite the media’s criticism. The public’s support of the media changed to censure.[8]

Nevertheless, both the Pentagon and the media were taken aback by the popular support of the anti-media policies implemented during Operation Urgent Fury. According to American lawyer Floyd Abrams, the Administration's anti-media policies are reliant on a public consensus of such policies.[9] This would seem to be the context of the policies of both President Lyndon B. Johnson's and President Richard M. Nixon's in relation to the Vietnam War and the invasion of Grenada.

The Reagan Administration decided to publicly question its media-military policies. In November 1983, General John W. Vessey, Jr., Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staffs, nominated retired Major-General Vinant Sidle to chair a commission to examine these policies. The Sidle Commission (also known as The Chairman's Panel on Media-Military Relations), was composed of seven military and six media persons. They were tasked to research the proper execution of military operations, whilst keeping the American public well informed by the media. The Commission decided to form a National Pool of fifteen journalists to cover American military operations. The National Pool would be comprised of representatives of the national media (television networks and news agencies, but not local newspapers such as The New York Times or the foreign press). They would be trained in military matters and would cover operations on a rotation basis. By accepting the Sidle Commission's recommendations, the US media agreed to (a limited) licensing of journalists, limitations on media access, barring the foreign press and discriminating against it.

The main test of the Sidle Commission Report was in its implementation. In April 1985, the Pentagon formed the National Pool, by order of the Secretary of Defense. It was then put into practice in several military exercises. Its first operational assignment was during the US Navy's mission to escort the oil tankers in the Persian Gulf during Gulf War I (the Iran-Iraq War). The National Pool was assembled in August 1987 and dispatched to the Persian Gulf, where the correspondents boarded US Naval vessels on a rotation basis and reported back on the escort operations.

During these operations, both the media and the military realized that the media’s needs were not being met by the US military. Furthermore, the correspondents’ commentaries were considerably delayed when filed through US military channels.

In March 1988, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 7th Infantry Division were deployed in Honduras for Exercise Golden Pheasant. The media Pool accompanied them to Honduras, but contrary to the National Pool Agreement, the Pool's dispatch to Honduras was made public.

Failure in Panama

In late-December 1989, the National Pool was supposed to cover the American invasion of Panama (Operation Just Cause). When the tension between General Manuel Noriega and Washington rose, many journalists rushed to Panama thus eliminating the National Pool’s exclusivity. The Pool correspondents were obliged to compete with their colleagues, whilst being restricted to the Pool's regulations, military transportation and escort. Moreover, the Pool was dispatched to Panama after the operation had already begun; they were delayed for several hours at the American Embassy in Panama City; and once, again, they could not file their stories without delay. After the operation, the Pentagon and the press blamed the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) for mismanagement of the Pool’s operations. However, the main problem was that Operation Just Cause was an open war. The National Pool was dispatched to Panama, but was not allowed to operate. It would appear that four major failures occurred: The Pool was too large; neither the Pentagon nor SOUTHCOM planned its deployment; the Pool had no independent transportation and relied solely on SOUTHCOM; and its stories arrived in the USA after a lengthy delay. Thus, both the press and the Pentagon reached the conclusion that the Pool scheme was inadequate. However, the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait took place before an alternative had been formulated.

Operation Just Cause served as a testing ground for weapon systems, doctrines, command and control methods, and news management. General Noriega was personally targeted by the US. The American media reported the invasion in an ethnocentric manner. It stressed the American cause and ignored the Panamanian cause, the international aspects of the conflict and the Panamanian popular resistance to the American invasion.

As in many previous American operations, the US military acted aggressively against anti-American newspapers and TV stations. Certain local TV stations were taken over by the US military in order to transmit American propaganda and misinformation to the Panamanians.

Gulf War Two - The Liberation of Kuwait

General H. Norman Schwartzkopf, Commanding Officer, US Central Command, was in charge of the American response to the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in August 1990. Gulf War II was divided into the build-up operation in Saudi Arabia (Operation Desert Shield) and the coalition war against Iraq (Operation Desert Storm). According to Morey Safer of CBS, the Gulf War was “the first television war.”[10] The war revitalized American stories of glory and heroism. Therefore, according to Hallin, this war’s TV image did not expose the ugliness, the civilian casualties and devastated buildings. The war was supposedly composed of experts, technicians, male and female fighters and flags.[11] Yet, the war was as bloody as the previous ones, but was executed with “dumb” munitions. This war’s image was that of a technological “clean” war, in which smart weaponry was operated by computers, since the casualties were not reported at all.[12] The war’s biased image was the result of military news management and the networks’ knowledge that their reports were reaching American living rooms in real time. American TV made every effort to market the sterilized image of the war.[13]

Both the American media and the military entered Gulf War II knowing that the National Pool had failed in covering the Panama operation. The media believed that the Pools were a bad idea and contradicted the First Amendment. Veteran commentator, Walter Cronkite, harshly criticized this decision in Congress, and urged the military to supply the media with all the required information as set out in the Constitution. On the other hand, a vast majority of Americans supported imposing limitations on media operations in wartime. Some even contended that the media was too free, and wanted additional restrictions.[14] American public opinion was against irresponsible press (namely, non-patriotic), and displayed its hostility to the press (e.g., against CNN’s team led by Peter Arnett reporting from Baghdad and against CBS’s Bob Simon taken prisoner by the Iraqis whilst defying American regulations).

The American military set the rules for news management,[15] and other nations (mainly the United Kingdom) followed their lead. During Operation Desert Shield, the Americans discovered that the National Pool would not be adequate in dealing with such a huge coalition force. Just one week before the commencement of Operation Desert Storm, they succeeded in training a huge number of American and foreign journalists (including female correspondents) to cover the forthcoming operations. Under strict Saudi regulations, the journalists were obliged to move in pools escorted by coalition officers. This resulted in considerable frustration amongst the editors and journalists since the pool system prevented them from obtaining any scoops. Editors were, therefore, prepared to obtain their news direct from Baghdad,[16] despite the fact that this information was suspected of being Iraqi propaganda and part of the Iraqi Psychological Operations system.

On August 8, 1990, the US asked the Saudis for visas for those journalists covering the war against Iraq. The Saudis agreed after two days on condition that the Americans would be responsible for them. The first members of the National Pool reached Saudi Arabia on August 13. The following morning, CENTCOM published its ground rules for the media. Pete Williams, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Public Affairs, published his instructions to the media at the same time. The media accepted these regulations but stressed their disappointment by adding ”Cleared by the Pentagon” to their reports.

The escorting officers or the Public Affairs officers in the US Headquarters in Saudi Arabia (JIB), were responsible for clearing the stories. If there were any queries, the story was sent to the DoD, where a media-military team would endeavor to settle the matter by mutual agreement.

In January 1991, there were more than a thousand foreign journalists accredited by CENTCOM. They were teamed with American counterparts in pools led by CENTCOM officers. The American journalists found it difficult to operate within the pool system, and tried their best to circumvent it. Bob Simon managed to infiltrate into the Iraqi desert but was caught by the Iraqis. An additional group of about forty Western journalists, who tried to force their way into Basra, were also captured.[17] The worst scenario for journalists was the news management, with news releases being doomed to be sent to the can, or filed in the archive. Therefore, the latent animosity between journalists and military officers resulted in a clash between pro-war and anti-war supporters, despite the fact that most of the press corps supported the war against Iraq. Since the Pentagon wanted to retain the clean image of the war, the officers suspected the journalists of trying to insert subversive messages into their reports. In fact, the press opposed the public’s ideology and therefore could not file anti-war stories. Nevertheless, the Bush Administration did not trust the media, and did its utmost to prevent the press from repeating what they called the Vietnam precedent. The Bush Administration wanted the military to be hailed as heroes, in accordance with the best American traditions, and eventually succeeded in mobilizing unprecedented public support for the US troops.

News management during Operations Desert Shield/Storm had to take the Saudis’ sensitivity into consideration. Christian and Jewish religious services held on American bases on Saudi soil could not be reported. Female soldiers in shorts and other “unsuitable” clothing, even during sports and recreation, had to be concealed.

According to General Schwartzkopf, news management in the Gulf War was totally different to that in the Vietnam War. The General stated that his staff was ordered not to manipulate the media to obtain better coverage.[18] However, the General did not convince Walter Cronkite, who vigorously opposed the imposed limitations on the press. Cronkite did not succeed in changing public opinion, which was dominated by the Bush Administration.

The press’ self-censorship helped in managing the news. The media, therefore, did not succeed in placing the old premise of the reliability gap on the public agenda. In operational terms, news management was assisted by the Allies’ air supremacy. The American military deceived the media and the Iraqis by highlighting the US Marines operations. Through this ploy, moving the XVIII Airborne Corps Headquarters to the Western front was an operational surprise for the Iraqis. American media initiatives succeeded in suppressing other stories, such as the suffering of the Iraqi people, and won the battle by placing other topics on the public agenda. Iraqi mistakes and the lack of understanding of Western minds – such as showing captured pilots on TV, or the airing of Saddam Hussein’s vivid “conversation” with a frightened British child - contributed to the American victory.

During Gulf War Two, the Pentagon employed a policy of not allowing families of prisoners-of-war to be exposed to the media. Consequently, the public did not discuss the war casualties problem.

Bob Simon argued that ever since the Vietnam War, the American military has done everything in its power to keep journalists out of the battlefields and areas of operation.[19] However, in all the history of American wars, journalists have never been known to hasten onto the battlefield. Colonel (Res.) Harry Summers stated that in his entire career as an infantry officer, both in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, he did not see many journalists on the battlefield.[20]

Operations Desert Shield/Storm proved that good news management could yield many operational benefits in wartime. On the other hand, the comparison between the Vietnam and Gulf Wars, resulted in a modus operandi of balancing free operation of the media and satisfying security needs by imbedding civilian journalists (including foreign ones) into military units.

Gulf War Three - The Campaign to Oust Saddam

The terrorist attacks on the USA in September 11, 2001 (hereafter - September 11) had a major influence on media-military relations in Gulf War Three. The patriotic conduct of the American media in covering September 11 and thereafter, helped to minimize the impact of the Al-Qaida attacks and their influence on American morale. Despite minor criticism of the media’s conduct, the media – particularly national TV - continued supporting the nation under attack. TV networks continued broadcasting war-like banners during their newscasts, accepted limitations suggested by the Bush Administration on coverage of Al-Qaida, and refrained from close-ups of casualties. In the US, Fox News now has the lead in TV ratings over CNN - the winner in the previous war. Some would call Fox’s tone nationalistic, compared to CNN’s efforts for a more international approach.

As in any other war, the American public demonstrated its patriotism, and expected the media to be patriotic while the “boys” were out there fighting the national enemy.[21] The public denounced Peter Arnett’s interview and what seemed to be his anti-American message on Iraqi TV during the war.[22] NBC TV and National Geographic were obliged to fire Arnett due to public pressure.

During the invasion of Afghanistan (Operation Endure Freedom), and the war against Iraq, the TV networks did not add the caption “Cleared by the American Censors” as they had done during the previous Gulf War.

President Bush succeeded in retaining the high level of public support for his Administration’s policies, over quite a prolonged period - from September 11 to the invasion of Iraq – which characterized the first stages of Gulf War III. This public support was based on the relatively low number of casualties compared to any other modern war. The low number of soldiers and marines wounded, killed and missing in action, defied most expectations, including warnings of extensive casualties in urban areas when the time came to confront the Iraqi guerrillas and fedayeen. Conversely, even Iraqi casualties were relatively low, despite the massive bombardments by cruise missiles, the coalition’s air forces and artillery on Iraqi targets concealed inside dense civilian populations.[23] Even the high rate of friendly-fire accidents did not harm US popular support for the war and President Bush’s policies towards Iraq, in spite of the opposition of the United Nations Organizations, Russia, France and Germany.

The swift victory over Iraq by General Tommy Franks’ CENTCOM forces, surprised observers and did not allow sufficient time for evaluation by CENTCOM and the Pentagon of the media-military relations formulated by Victoria Clarke (the first ever female Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs).[24] American and foreign media crews (including several female correspondents) were trained by the US military, and were then imbedded into a military unit for the duration of the operation. The correspondents were given a free hand to report whatever they wished, conditioned only by security considerations. They, therefore, enjoyed freedom of the press but were obliged to heed the local commanders’ orders. However, those journalists who left their units to obtain scoops, were penalized and expelled from the areas controlled by the US military in Iraq and/or Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia. As the war zone was, in fact, an occupied area, this gave CENTCOM’s military commanders authority over combatant, non-combatant and civilian Iraqi populations. They could, therefore, use their authority to expel any journalist caught violating the embedding agreement.[25]

CENTCOM’s combat order relating to embedded journalists, equipped with advanced technology, transformed their reporting into a series of guarded stories. The wood had become an endless row of trees, and was barely reported. Yet, the fragmentation of the war story facilitated news management and censorship, whilst allowing a sense of a free press. On the other hand, the fact that the embedded journalists accompanied the soldiers/marines for several days, blocked them psychologically from filing negative stories.[26] This is the most efficient method of censorship - self-censorship.

The American authorities were undecided regarding daily press conferences. In the Vietnam era, there was at least one daily conference which the press corps nicknamed “the 5 O’clock Follies.” In Gulf War Two, General Schwartzkopf gave a daily press conference in Dhahran and Pete Williams gave a daily press conference in Washington, DC. At both press conferences top military and civilian personnel briefed the press on daily events. It appeared that General Franks did not feel up to handling face-to-face meetings with the press, as his predecessor in Gulf War II had done. On the other hand, Secretary of Defense, Donald H. Rumsfeld, gave several press conferences in Washington which were very controversial and self -complimentary. The American media and analysts did not favor the embedding system. Many journalists and columnists criticized the war, President Bush’s policies and the news management, but were unable to convince their subscribers: the President and his Administration won popular support. In the early stages of the war, the media criticism was centered on the attempt to compare military planning with reality in the field, and showing that the operation was not proceeding according to plan. The Iraqi regime then collapsed and left the war’s critics with no argument.

A major point of disagreement was the KIAs, POWs and MIAs. The Pentagon tried its best to play down these issues, whilst the American press attempted to obtain at least the human stories. In doing so, they violated the families’ privacy. The Iraqis underestimated American patriotism, and by showing the injured POWs (including a female) on the Qatari Al-Jazeera TV station, they generated American support for the war. From the beginning of the crisis, the Al-Jazeera TV station served as a conduit for anti-American footage supplied by either Al-Qaida or the Iraqi propaganda machines.

Despite the theory that viewing the POWs on TV guaranteed their safety, [27] violation of their families’ privacy[28] instigated a Pentagon response: the DoD accepted the POWs’ and the then-MIAs’ families’ agreement not to show their loved ones. In addition, the families of those killed in action requested the media not to televise the arrival of their coffins at the Dover Air Force Base, DE. During the Vietnam War, the arrival of coffins at Dover AFB constituted a major part of anti-war reporting.


Free mass communication is crucial in a democracy. As the fourth branch of Government,[29] the media has a duty to scrutinize the plans and performance of the Executive Branch. In order to do so, the media must have access to decision-making information. This ensures transparency and accountability of Government actions. However, national security matters require a certain degree of secrecy for correct procedures. Thus, there is a natural conflict of interests between a free press, transparency and accountability and national security affairs. Within the framework of the required balance of interests between freedom of the press and national security, every nation grants high priority in wartime to the security of its forces and its intelligence sources (hereinafter - security needs).

Furthermore, the media is expected to mediate between the nation and its leadership, to present the public’s demands and expressions of support (input and output) to policy makers and to mobilize the public’s support for the implementation of government policy - a major condition for management of international conflicts and wars. Without popular support, any government – particularly a democratic one - would be unable to wage a war, since it requires large-scale financing and human resources which must be approved. The government, therefore, must ensure that it has the support of the public behind it.

War on terrorism - like any other war - is basically a psychological one. There are three actors in this arena: the first is one’s own public, the second is the enemy and the third are the neutral states. To win a war, a nation must persuade both itself and the enemy that it is invincible. Control of the mass media is, therefore, crucial in countering terrorism. It takes a crucial weapon out of the terrorists’ arsenal, and mobilizes it against them.

Is a war without censorship - as writes Raymond Nixon[30] - Elysium?

The introduction of computers and advanced telecommunication technology makes news management in wartime even more important. Third Wave’s technologies are capable of disseminating information beyond political borders and to circumvent every defense in order to reach the nation’s soft belly in wartime. In wartime - as in the terrorists’ strategy - it is very important to control public opinion and thereby influence the decision-making process.

The American public’s patriotism and resilience during September 11, the invasion of Afghanistan and Gulf War III, was a crucial tool of policy. It taught us how important public opinion is in times of national distress. In emergencies, regular patterns of government and civil society are disrupted, and whoever controls public opinion influences the agenda as well as the decision-making process. A nation must relinquish some of its democratic rights for a while, in order to win a war or to survive an attack and revitalize its democracy. It would, otherwise, be unable to survive.

September 11 was a very disturbing experience for the Americans. Since 1812, the USA has never been under attack.[31] However, after September 11, the USA changed its approach to its national defense and security and the balance of freedom guaranteed by the Constitution and legislation. The USA has moved into a channel of effective and decisive war against terrorism and has acquired a new balance between effectiveness and civil rights, a free press and expression.

American war experience shows that civil and political rights suffered whenever the Americans were convinced that their national defense was threatened. According to the Hon. Justice William Brennen, Jr. of the US Supreme Court, the American system is unaccustomed to national defense crises. According to him, in order to cope with a threat to civil rights in emergencies, the nation must be familiar with the circumstances, which the American system does not provide for.[32] He thus concludes:

This sort of true familiarity [with national security threats] cannot be gained merely by abstract deduction, historical retrospection, or episodic exposure, but requires long-lasting experience with the struggle to preserve civil liberties in the face of a continuing national security threat.[33]

During national security crises, Americans seem to have abandoned the sacred principle of a free press, in order to protect their national defense. Even judicial review of the cases in national security crises approved the violation of that principle by commission or omission. News management and censorship in wartime is as “American as Apple Pie”. In order to survive the crises, the USA used what researchers defined as a double-standard system: on the one hand the First Amendment, and on the other, violation of all guaranteed rights in crises.[34] This system does not create discord and is, therefore, the most favorable solution to the dilemma.

During the last quarter of the twentieth century, television has become part and parcel of the dialogue between the defense establishment and the nation. But not every public official - civilian or military - is able or willing to use it properly. In the 1980s, the Pentagon understood the enormous influence of the mass media, and concluded that an important story should not be concealed. Certain DoDs and Armed Services even realized that the mass media could assist the Pentagon in promoting certain issues.[35] According to Sims,

… developing a cadre of defense leaders who are available, candid, knowledgeable, and relaxed with journalists, without risking their careers, will not be easy. Working with journalists can be precarious for officials. Say the wrong thing; get into trouble. Say the right thing; reporter gets it wrong; get into trouble. Motivations and attitudes of officials do not match those of journalists; they are marching to different drummers ... The interaction of journalists with the military will continue to be adversarial but not confrontational. Yet those journalists who cover the Pentagon regularly often have valuable insights. Their criticism can be beneficial, and answering their questions a wholesome exercise.[36]

Media-Pentagon good relations is beneficial also for the evaluation of governmental plans (test balloons).

… policies and programs that cannot be successfully explained to the public are usually ill-conceived. Therefore, a realistic policy of dealing with the media makes good sense. Some things cannot and should not be discussed with journalists; some American military battlefields of the future may be closed to the immediacy of modern news coverage. But the major subjects of keenest interest to defense journalists can be discussed with them, and should be. Good policies and good programs ought to be explainable – and good officials ought to know how to do the explaining.[37]

The Gulf Wars raise some questions on media-military relations:

Is it proper for the media to suppress the ugly facts of war and not bring them into the audience’s living rooms?

Will the public trust the media knowing that in wartime they are manipulated by the military?

Must the media cooperate with the military and express its patriotism by being pro-war?

How does the military benefit from proper management of the media during wartime?

How does the extensive use of news management, manipulation and deception influence the feasibility of news management in the next war?

The introduction of new technologies into journalistic work would make reporting easier but conversely, it makes journalism more likely to be manipulated or influenced. A high level of competition, new technologies, and the constant need to produce news items, would make the US media more susceptible to public opinion demands to be more patriotic in covering the US fighting troops (“our sons”). The media would have more problems with unfavorable reporting of the US war machine.

During the invasion of Grenada and Gulf War II, the US media was surprised by the popular support of the anti-press measures taken by the Administrations, and did not challenge them.[38]

Furthermore, in both Gulf Wars, it was evident that the senior commanders’ ability to deal with the media face-to-face, was a national asset.


The US defense and military systems have, on a trial-and-error basis, accumulated vast experience in media-military relations in the post-Vietnam era. The American solutions to the democratic dilemma - namely, balancing between national security and free press - are basically American ones, and therefore copying them into other national systems requires much care and adaptation.

Other nations could learn about optimal media-military relations in wartime and in countering-terrorism from the American example of news management since September 11. Threats, history, culture, size and national values and beliefs on the Israeli scene, are totally different to the American ones. Yet, Israel and the Israel Defense Forces must learn from the American experience, and adopt some of their conclusions into present and future media-military relations in wartime, peacetime, terrorism and counter-terrorism. At present, the USA is the only super-power in the international system. It enjoys supremacy and can therefore ignore much of the international criticism.[39] No other country has such freedom to implement its policies.

Every organization, whether military or civilian, requires know-how of news management in crises. Control of the media’s coverage might determine the images. A known dictum in public relations says, “you did it and reported it - you have really done it; you did it and did not report it - you did not do it at all!” The media and mass communications are vital areas of policy, military affairs and counter-terrorism. Thus, any military or counter-terrorism planning must take news management and public relations into account. The Gulf Wars - like counter-terrorism – taught us that a tactical defeat of the enemy is not sufficient; a psychological victory is even more vital. Without the latter, there is no real victory.[40]

The media must hear a unified and clear voice, especially during crises. An important rule is that the CEOs are responsible to their organization’s public relations. Military commanders must define their units’ priorities balance between operational and security needs and media needs – in accordance with government policies. The media must be given the highest priority in operational, as well as administrative operations. The positive image of the military serves national security and therefore it is important to give the media an opportunity to positively report our operations and policies.

The Israeli Arena

Some of the American prescriptions for media-military relations should be emulated by the Israeli defense hasbara (information) system. The Israeli record since the Arab uprising (Intifada) in the late 1980s has been very bad. In order to correct this, the IDF, the Israeli Police, Border Police (MAGAV), and other security agencies dealing with law and order, should train their commanders to deal with the media as an integral part of their training as cadets and officers. An introduction to the media should begin in the relevant officers training courses, since junior officers must cope with the media on a daily basis. Proper handling of media-military relations is imperative in coping with the Arab uprising in the territories, or Israel’s image can be irreversibly hurt.

The IDF should have a public relations policy decided upon by the Chief-of-Staff and implemented by a top-ranking officer – the most suitable person for this job would be the IDF Spokesperson – who would be responsible for the military information system. Implementation of the policy could be centralized, according to operational needs, but responsibility should not be shared.

Despite the criticism of the nomination of Major-General Amos Gilead to the post of Israel’s Chief Information Coordinator during Gulf War III,[41] the CoS should appoint such an officer to coordinate information campaigns during crises and major operations. I would recommend that this post be given to a well-known, reliable civilian figure who is able to deal with the media.[42] The Chief Information Coordinator must have a military or defense record in order to establish her/his credentials with both the media and the military.

Israeli public relations policy should be to exercise complete transparency when dealing with the media, taking security requirements into account. The IDF has nothing to conceal from the Israeli and international public. However, during crises, military censorship should be imposed by mutual agreement with the media, so as to prevent the accidental violation of security. By reaching an understanding with the media, military censorship would be more straightforward. As a matter of regular procedure, the media corps would be included in every operation. In certain cases, the media would not be allowed to accompany the units, (such as in special counter-terrorism operations). In these cases, a press Pool would be set up, according to operational and security requirements. Immediately after such an operation, the IDF should circulate news and photographic items to the local and international media.

Professionalism. The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit is too small to cope with the public relations needs of the military. The IDFSU should be enlarged and reorganized as a professional corps operating a school on a regular basis. The school will train public relations and journalism specialists for the IDFSU, as well as for commanders of all ranks. The IDFSU should immediately revise the IDF public relations/information doctrine to ensure that the public relations issue is not ignored.

In each unit, from the brigade level upwards, an officer would be appointed to deal with the unit’s public relations. This officer should be acquainted with operations and be capable of dealing with the media. The officer would be part of the unit’s chain of command, so as to be well informed and up-dated.

Training in media affairs must be an integral part of the officers’ course and a prerequisite for promotion. A good combat officer needs to know as much about the media as he knows about other aspects of modern warfare.

Speed. The brigade commanders should be given the responsibility for tactical media-military relations. The brigade provides the tactical answers to threats and developments and is, therefore, the highest level to be informed and updated in real time. By making brigade commanders responsible for public relations, we can ensure that a speedy answer is given to the media at all times. The initial version of events is of the utmost importance. Communication responses must be reliable and presented in real time to defeat the enemy. The brigade commander should, therefore, be responsible for the security clearance of the information handed out by his/her staff.

Technology. In order to cover events on the battlefield, the media requires security and access to the area. They must also have the technical means to file their stories. The armed forces should do their utmost to provide these essentials.

The Media. In order to improve Israeli media-military relations, a pool of local and foreign journalists should be trained in military affairs and physical fitness. These journalists would be accredited to accompany IDF combat units on their missions, in accordance with security requirements.

We recommend that the IDF “embed” as many journalists as possible, in order to improve media-military relations.


[1] Gulf War One was fought between Iran and Iraq in the late-1970s and 1980s. In Gulf War II, the US and its coalition fought Iraq for the liberation of Kuwait (Operations Desert Shield/Storm).

[2] According to the Tofflers, the media are eager to speak on media affairs to a point that this was the main topic dealt with covering the Second Gulf War. Toffler, Alvin, and Toffler Heidi, 1994. War and Anti-War. New York: Warner Books.

[3] Namely, Gulf War II (Operations Desert Shield/Storm), the invasion of Afghanistan (Operation Endure Freedom), and Gulf War III (Operations Iraqi Freedom).

[4] See documents filed in Pentagon Rules on Media Access to the Persian Gulf War. Hearing before the Committee on Governmental Affairs, United States Senate (102 Congress). February 1991; Eviathar H. Ben-Zedeff, 1991. “The US Military Establishment and Freedom of the Press.” Ma’arachoth 321: 42-52 [Hebrew].

[5] Peter Braestrup, 1983. Big Story: How the American Press and Television Reported and Interpreted the Crisis of Tet 1968, Vietnam and Washington. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press; Daniel C. Hallin, 1986. The “Uncensored War.” The Media and Vietnam. New York: Oxford University Press; William M. Hammond, 1988. Public Affairs. The Military and the Media 1962-1968. The U.S. Army in Vietnam. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army; William M. Hammond, 1996. Public Affairs. The Military and the Media 1968-1973. The U.S. Army in Vietnam. Washington, DC: Center of Military History, United States Army.
[6] Eviathar H. Ben-Zedeff, 1997. Achilles’ Heel: Feasibility of Military Censorship of the Media in the "Third Wave" Era of Technology. A paper submitted to the biennial international conference of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society (IUS), Baltimore, MD (October).

[7] A conversation with the author, Washington, DC, April 1997.

[8] The attitudinal change is well shown by Hollywood. From movies like Alan J. Pakula's All the President's Men (Warner Brothers, 1976) that portrays a positive picture of the media and journalists we have come to Pakula's The Pelican Brief (Warner Brothers, 1994) that portrays the cynical world of journalism.

[9] Floyd Abrams, 1983. National Security and Freedom of the Press - An American Perspective. A lecture at the Azriel Carlebach Chair for Journalism, Tel Aviv University (December, 27) [mimeo].

[10] James B. Brown, 1992. "Media Access to the Battlefield." Military Review (July), p. 11.

[11] Daniel C. Hallin, 1991. “TV’s Clean Little War.” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists (May): 17-19.

[12] Paul F. Walker and Eric Stambler, 1991. “… And the Dirty Little Weapons.” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, (May): 21-24.

[13] Hallin, 1991: 17-19.

[14] John M. Shotwell, 1991. "The Fourth Estate as A Force Multiplier." Marine Corps Gazette (July), p. 76; Bruce W. Watson, 1991. "The Issue of Media Access to Information." in Bruce W. Watson, Bruce George, Peter G. Tsouras, B. L. Cy, and The International Analysis Group on the Gulf War (Eds.). Military Lessons of the Gulf War. London: Greenhill Books and Presidio Press, California, p. 210.

[15] Legally, the Supreme Command was the Saudi Prince, and General Schwartzkopf was his deputy, operating under a UN Security Council’s resolution.

[16] As in most of the wars in the second half of the twentieth century, the media accept news reported from “the other side of the hill” while trying to evade sheer propaganda.

[17] Bob Simon, 1992. Forty Days. Tel Aviv: Ma’ariv Publishing House [Hebrew], p. 25; Watson, 1991: 209-210.

[18] An interview with Barabara Walters, ABC’s 20/20, March 22, 1991; Watson, 1991: 206, 209.

[19] Simon, 1992: 204-205.

[20] An interesting confrontation between the journalists flocking to the bars to the journalists hunting stories in the battlefields can be seen in Roland Joffe’s The Killing Fields (Warner Brothers, 1984), which is based on an autobiography of a New York Times reporter during the invasion of Cambodia.

[21] This is, supposedly, an universal response. Such a response had been observed in the US in the Korean and Vietnam Wars; in the UK during the war against the Irish terrorism and the Falklands Campaign (See David E. Morrison and Howard Tumber, 1988. Journalists at War. The Dynamics of News Reporting during the Falklands Conflict. London: Sage); and even in Israel.

[22] Walter Cronkite, 2003. "Speaking with the Enemy." New York Times (Online, April 1).

[23] Since WW II social scientist have discussed the influence of casualty shyness on decision-making in the West. In the last decade many researchers agree that casualty shyness is lower when a national consensus on the war goals is achieved. Yet, Iraqi officials have repeatedly threatened the US with casualties in both Gulf Wars. John E. Mueller, 1973. War, Presidents, and Public Opinion. New York: Wiley; Eric V. Larson, 1996. Casualties and Consensus. The Historical Role of Casualties in Domestic Support for U.S. Military Operations. Santa Monica, CA: RAND.

[24] Department of Defense, Office of Assistant Secretary (Public Affairs), 2003. Public Affairs Guidance (PAG) on Embedding Media during Possible Future Operations/Deployment in the U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR). An Unclassified Document (February 10).

[25] As Gerardo Riviera, and some Portuguese and Israeli journalists.

[26] After Gulf War II, there were several writers who claimed that by joining a unit, a reporter would be converted into a fan of that unit. Shotwell, 1991.

[27] On the other hand, after the Israeli Operation Peace for Galilee an M-60 Israeli tank taken by the Syrian in the Sultan Yaakub battle was shown on parade in Damascus, but three of its crew are still MIAs while the fourth member of the crew had been released after about three years of captivity. An F-4 weapon systems operator Lieutenant-Colenel Ron Arad, Israeli Air Force (Reserves), taken POW in October 1986 by a terrorist organization in Lebanon had been photographed in his captivity, but ever since had disappeared.

[28] The most outrageous was seemingly the media intrusion into a Hopi Indian Tribe in Tuba City, Arizoona in a search for a story about Specialist Lori Piestewa, the first Native American female soldier that has ever killed in combat.

[29] Douglas Cater, 1959. The Fourth Branch of Government. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

[30] Raymond B., Nixon, 1939. "Propaganda and Censorship in America's Next War." Journalism Quarterly 16: 237-244, 322.
[31] Of course, one can disregard a shooting by a Japanese submarine on the shoreline of Oregon in World War II.

[32] William J. Brennen, Jr., 1988. "The Quest to Develop A Jurisprudence of Civil Liberties in Times of Security Crises." Israel Yearbook on Human Rights 18: 11-12, 20.

[33] Brennen, 1988: 20.

[34] Nixon, 1939; James R. Wiggins, 1956. Freedom or Secrecy. New York: Oxford University Press; Baruch Kimmerling, 1985. The Interrupted System. Israeli Civilians in War and Routine Times. New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Books; Brennen, 1988.

[35] Robert Sims, 1983. The Pentagon Journalists. Washington, DC: National Defense University Press, pp. 59-60.

[36] Sims, 1983: 150.

[37] Sims, 1983: 150.

[38] Only Larry Flint, the publisher of Hustler, petitioned to the US Supreme Court against the news management by the US military. Both his petitions were turned down by the Supreme Court on the basis of mootness.

[39] For example, compare the US response to the International Criminal Court in de-Hague with the Israeli response to the ICC and to the suit filed against Prime Minister Ariel Sharon in the Belgian court regarding the massacre in Sabra and Chatila refugee camps in Lebanon, in 1982.

[40] There are many examples of military victories that had been badly reported is the defeat of the Viet cong by the Americans in the Tet Offensive, 1968.

[41] Since General Gilead is about to retire, the search for his replacement should immediately begin.

[42] For a good example for the mix - see Brigadier-General Vincent Brooks, Deputy Director of Operations, CENTCOM, during Gulf War III, and General Schwartzkopf himself in Gulf War II.