Second Front: Censorship And Propaganda in The Gulf War, by John R. Macarthur
One of the oddest aspects of the Gulf War has been the extent to which journalists have complained about the treatment that they received from the government, and their belief that the restrictions against them were unprecedented even though they matched previous restrictions in conflicts like World War II, Korea, as well as smaller operations like Grenada and Panama. The press appears to have gotten used to the relative freedom it had in Vietnam and also wishes to deny its corrosive role in morale in that conflict, while the author simultaneously demonstrates a certain feeling of obligation in being opposed to the foreign policy behavior of Republican presidents when it came to foreign interventions. The blatant partisanship of this effort undercuts the author’s claims to demonstrate the nobility and ethics of the journalist profession by showing that journalists are by and large entitled hacks who lack a great deal of self-awareness. And when one is writing a book like this which the ire and frustration of the press, and with the author with the corporate interests of the press who were less than mighty in defense of press rights during the war, that lack of self-awareness is crippling for one’s arguments.
This book is between 200 and 250 pages long and consists of fairly long chapters that are made up mostly of whining about the Gulf War as it relates to the press. The book begins with a discussion of the deal that was cut between the media and press companies and between the United States and Saudi Arabia, for example, and the deal between Kuwait and lobbyists to defend their own interests in the American press (1). After that there is a discussion about the somewhat dishonest and shady way in which the U.S. government, Kuwaiti government-in-exile, and other organizations intentionally or unintentionally sold the image of the Iraqis as being brutal Nazi-like war criminals in occupied Kuwait, to inflame the hostility of the people even further against Iraq (2). This i followed by the design of the war and of the war effort in such a way that minimized the ability of the press to present a skewed anti-war perspective or to destroy the element of surprise by leaking American war plans (3). After this comes a chapter that discusses the author’s complaints about the way that the press has been blamed for the decline in morale in Vietnam (4), as well as the author’s rage at the effectiveness of the muzzling of the press (5). Finally, the book ends with a discussion of the cowardice of press companies in suing the government over restrictions (6) as well as notes, a brief appendix, and an index.
One of the foremost positions of the author is that the Bush administration treated the media like the enemy of the state. If there is one thing that the last few years have taught any American who has eyes to see and ears to hear, it is that the press is the enemy of the people and the enemy of any sound and right-thinking government. The author, while not wanting to admit that the press was really the enemy of the people, nonetheless is honest enough to note that the war was very popular with the people but not particularly popular with the press itself. And the author does not seem to find this to reflect badly on the press that the interests of the people and that of the press diverge to such a great degree as they did with regards to the popularity and the general justice of the cause of the United States during the Gulf War. Where this book is at its most damning is in the way that it points out how the press companies themselves failed to best reflect the interests of journalists while still failing to reflect the interests of the government as well as the people, and in showing how cowardly controlling editors were when it came to the restrictions that were placed on them.