From Vietnam to Iraq: Negative trends in television war reporting
In 1876, an American newspaperman with the US 7th Cavalry, Mark Kellogg, declared: ‘I go with Custer, and will be at the death.’ This overtly heroic pronouncement embodies what many still want to believe is the greatest role in journalism: to go up to the fight, to be with ‘the boys’, to expose yourself to risk, to get the story and the blood-soaked images, to vividly describe a world of strength and weakness, of courage under fire, of victory and defeat—and, quite possibly, to die. So culturally embedded has this idea become that it raises hopes among thousands of journalism students worldwide that they too might become that holiest of entities in the media pantheon, the television war correspondent. They may find they have left it too late. Accompanied by evolutionary technologies and breathtaking media change, TV war reporting has shifted from an independent style of filmed reportage to live pieces-to-camera from reporters who have little or nothing to say. In this article, I explore how this has come about; offer some views about the resulting negative impact on practitioners and the public; and explain why, in my opinion, our ‘right to know’ about warfare has been seriously eroded as a result.
Caption: The technology has improved, but the risks do not go away. Freelancer John Martinkus, author of A Dirty Little War about East Timor, seen here on assignment for SBS Dateline in Kunar province, Afghanistan, in 2005, was kidnapped in Iraq—but he managed to escape. Others have not been so fortunate.
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