blog: Free press necessary for informed citizens about war, conflict
“Leaders throughout history have turned to propaganda to transform populations
understandably wary of the costs of war into war’s most ardent supporters”- Sean Penn
Unfortunately all it takes for a country to support war, even though the reasons for doing so are not always clear, is the right use of persuading propaganda.
When it comes to these times of war persuasion it becomes of extreme importance to learn and understand the truth – the true history and true reason for war.
A news media independent of government officials and free to investigate every story, American citizens have the opportunity to become knowledgeable enough to either support going to war or protest it.
In the summer of 1971, The New York Times and then The Washington Post, along with a few other newspapers, began publishing a series of articles based on stolen copies of a top-secret government study called “History of the United States Decision-Making Process on Vietnam Policy.”
Soon after the articles appeared, Attorney Gen. John Mitchell asked The Times to stop publication, stating that the articles were a danger to national security. Since The Times’ publisher refused, the government received a court injunction to stop publication.
The Supreme Court ruled June 30, 1971, in favor of The New York Times and The Washington Post, refusing to block publication of the information because the government had failed to provide evidence that a ban was needed in order to protect the nation.
It is legal action like this Pentagon Papers case that fight for the right of citizens to know what is going on within the inner workings of the government.
When journalists are not allowed – or encouraged – to be the “watchdogs of the government,” situations like the 2003 invasion of Iraq threaten to misinform both the media and citizens. Following September 11, 2001, journalists were persecuted by the president and his administration and deemed “unpatriotic” to the point that many journalists and news organizations admittedly failed the American public in voicing critical reports about the government’s decision toward war two years after 9/11.
In the months leading up to the Iraq war, President George W. Bush alerted the United States on the importance of invading Iraq and disarming Saddam Hussein. Bush urged citizens that if action was not taken against the impoverished and malnourished country, then Iraq leaders were sure to supply terrorist with weapons of mass destruction. Yet, once the CIA’s investigation on the existence of weapons of mass destruction was complete, the agency confirmed that no such weapons had ever existed.
“After more than 18 months, the weapons of mass destruction (WMD) investigation and debriefing of the WMD-related detainees has been exhausted,” wrote Charles Duelfer, head of the Iraq Survey Group.
War propaganda was used to hide the true reasons for invading Iraq and to rally U.S. citizens’ support toward the decision. War propaganda had become a partnership between the news media and government officials promulgating the benefits of conflict.
Norman Solomon, a nationally syndicated columnist on media and politics, pointed out that President George W. Bush would constantly compare an enemy leader to Adolph Hitler in order to win public opinion for his war on terror. This comparison between the enemy leader and Hitler helped the public believe it was the United States’ duty to defeat evil, and therefore, the act of bombing and killing was an act for the greater good.
Governments and their leaders are always going to engage in propaganda. That’s what politicians do. But, it is absolutely critical that journalists maintain their role to report, analyze and evaluate such explanations – or rationalizations – of war by U.S. officials with a critical eye.
Not only do journalists owe it to the American people so that citizens may fully understand the reasons behind war but also to honor the courageous men and women who put their lives on the line for their country.
If journalists revert back and just accept information given to them without deeper independent investigation, then Solomon’s prediction of presidents and pundits spinning the United States to death through war will become reality.
Communication & Media Studies