Our Pro-War Media

Cheerleaders may support our troops, but media cheerleaders are bad at covering our wars
Cheerleaders may support our troops, but media cheerleaders are bad at covering our wars

W.J. Astore

Five years ago, I wrote an article for Nieman Watchdog with the title, “Networks Should Replace Pentagon Cheerleaders with Independent Military Analysts.”  Major media networks rely on retired colonels, generals, and admirals to give “unbiased” and “disinterested” commentary on military matters to the wider public.  At the same time, many of these same retired military talking heads serve on boards for major defense contractors, a clear conflict of interest, as revealed most tellingly by David Barstow.  I argued that media outlets need to develop their own, independent, commentators, ones that are not embedded with (or in bed with) the military and companies that profit from war.

In five years, I’ve witnessed no change to military coverage on TV and cable news.  It’s wave-the-flag boosterism, pure and simple.  The main problem with such uncritical coverage is that it keeps us in untenable (and unwinnable) wars.  Consider the latest announcement from Afghanistan that American troops will remain in that country for another decade.  Such an announcement is greeted with collective yawns by the U.S. media, even though a majority of Americans want U.S. troops out of Afghanistan now.  After a dozen years of death and waste and corruption, who can blame them?

Critical documentaries have been made about the U.S. military and its wars, but they are consigned largely to leftist fringes and seen by audiences that need little convincing about the peril of war.  To name just three, consider watching The Ground Truth (veterans’ perspectives from Iraq), Dirty Wars (based on the Jeremy Scahill book by the same title), and Unmanned: America’s Drone Wars (currently streaming for free online).  These documentaries give the lie to the idea that America’s wars are heroic and clean and necessary.

Nevertheless, a pervasive myth is the belief that the U.S. media is “liberal” and “anti-military.”  In “Stop Blaming the Press,” journalist David Danelo (in the U.S. Naval Institute’s Proceedings from January 2008) recalled a comment made by the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James Conway, in September 2006.  Lauding Marine reporters, General Conway barked, “Maybe if we could get the rest of the media to do the job like you folks, we might have a chance of winning the war [in Iraq].”  Stormy applause greeted this comment.

To his credit, Danelo defended the fairness of most U.S. media coverage, which drew strong dissents in the February 2008 issue of Proceedings.  A Navy officer complained that Danelo failed “to level criticism at reporters for not doing their part to ensure victory.”  Today’s press, this officer implied, neither supported American troops nor wanted America to succeed in its wars.  Another officer, a retired Marine, wrote that “just one negative story” from an American journalist “bolsters our enemies’ confidence and resolve while equally destroying support from the public at home, thus eroding our servicemen’s and women’s resolve on the battlefield.”  Refusing to suffer such journalistic “fools,” whose “stories could not have been more harmful than if al Qaeda had written them,” this officer demanded immediate military censorship of media working in-theater.  Those journalists who refused to cooperate “would operate at their own risk and without military protection,” this retired Marine concluded ominously.

The idea that critical media coverage provides aid and comfort to the enemy is a commonplace.  It serves to muzzle U.S. media watchdogs, ensuring that America will continue to unleash its dogs of wars across the world.

Sadly, the saying “The first casualty in war is truth” has never been more true.  When our media coverage of wars is compromised, so too are our wars.  And when our wars are fought for ill-conceived notions, so too will our media coverage be ill-conceived and notional.

As long as our nation keeps lying to itself in its wave-the-flag media coverage of war, our nation’s wars will persist.

8 thoughts on “Our Pro-War Media

  1. “Got a light for my Victory cigarette?…Ah, thanks, buddy. May I offer you a shot of my Victory gin?” With each passing year, I marvel more at the prescience of Orwell’s NINETEEN EIGHTY-FOUR. Apparently the military officers you quoted here would like the media to conform to Big Brother’s standards: victory is always imminent, just keep a stiff upper lip there on the homefront. (And accept with untroubled mind the regular shifting of just who the enemy is.) Despite the ranting accusations of wingnuts (most of whom probably never served in the military), the U.S. media were NOT out to sabotage the war against Viet Nam. It’s just that that war was so wrong, and perpetrated such horrors against the civilian population, that Truth finally squeezed through cracks in the wall of blind “patriotism.” The virtual requirement that correspondents be “embedded” with U.S. forces in Iraq constituted de facto censorship. As for Afghanistan, it’s nothing less than hilarious that the U.S. had to dance around Mr. Karzai’s demand for an apology for certain “mistakes” before reaching this agreement to extend the American presence there to 2024. We are assured by the Obama administration that after next year, U.S. personnel will only “support and train” Afghan forces. Right. And the first U.S. troops sent into Viet Nam were only there as “advisors.” I’m sure the people of Afghanistan can look forward to a new, shining society, just as stable as Iraq has become after the beneficent U.S. presence there. Virtually every day this past week the NY Times carried the headline: “Dozens Killed In Attacks Across Iraq.” I’m looking forward to the next rerun of THIS headline: “U.S. Says Back Of Taliban Resistance Broken.” Now, where’d that bottle of Victory gin get off to, darn it?


  2. While on the topic of the media complicity it demands that we remind the media that Obama did NOT pull all of our troops out of Iraq in order to keep his promise to end that occupation. WE WERE “KICKED OUT OF iRAQ” by the Shia puppet government we helped to install. Try to hear that from any media outlet in this country. The Iraq government insisted, contrary to our demand, that US forces would be subject to Iraqi law rather than our law. as a result we pulled out our troops under the timetable established by Bush, not Obama.
    How positively ludicrous and grotesquely bizarre this is. According to our previous great leader, Bush, our mission in Iraq, once the messy diversion on WMD was shit canned, was to bring Democracy to this benighted country. If we left this country with the rule of law why would we not let out soldiers be tried under their laws? Unspoken was the fact that the real reason was to secure Iraq’s oil for us and our allies, and to serve the Saudi royal family and Israel’s strategic anti Iran goals. So now we have an undemocratic Shia government that has marginalized the minority Sunni citizens causing an insurgency. And as an added insult to our greater wisdom they have moved closer to Iran and now become a major contributor to the general political instability spreading throughout the Middle East.
    Has the media and we learned anything? Of course not. We are now trying with all of our might to extend our occupation of Afghanistan for ten more years in order to bring Democracy to another benighted tribal society who shows more wisdom about their sad plight than we can muster.
    Let’s hear from all who agree or disagree!


  3. The USA has never left any nation. Our bases are still in Europe and so many other places. We never had French bases after the revolution. Many people say “US bases shouldn’t be all over the world. What nation doesn’t have US bases?” Ehud Barack Obama wants our nation to stay in Afghanistan until 2024. If Hillbilly Clinton becomes president, she will keep us there even longer.


  4. “The main problem with such uncritical coverage is that it keeps us in untenable (and unwinnable) wars.”

    Wars don’t become “good”, or better in any way, if they are winnable. In fact it probably makes them even more heinous and criminal, because it most likely means the USA is attacking another impossibly weaker country, like Nicaragua, which had less than 4 million people when the USA mined its harbors and supported a proxy terrorist army to attack it.

    As for the “marine” (gang member), who wrote that critical news reports help US enemies: good. Nelson Mandela was on the USA’s terrorist list for years. We were supposed to believe he was a terrorist and a threat because the USA supported south african apartheid and Mandela opposed it.

    Shows you what the USA’s “terrorist” list is for.

    The USA saying someone is an “enemy” means nothing.


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