Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War First Edition, With a new afterword Edition

11 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0520083981
ISBN-10: 0520083989
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The publisher of Harper's magazine here decries what he sees as the Pentagon's efforts to sanitize the Gulf war. First he reviews the Defense Department's technique during Grenada of creating a media pool and ensuring that it arrived after the action, and in Panama of virtually imprisoning the pool on an army base. He then turns to "Operation Desert Muzzle," as he calls it, a "devastating and immoral victory" for military censorship and a "crushing defeat" for the press and the First Amendment. MacArthur expresses revulsion at the media's timid acquiescence to the Pentagon's tight control of news, combined with its "out-and-out boosterism and jingoism." He criticizes Dan Rather's casual but heartfelt "salute to our young men and women out there" as offensive. In a final scene, for which his puzzling metaphor is Nathanael West's Day of the Locust , MacArthur describes how reporters at a postwar Washington banquet fawned over Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf: " . . . the Fourth Estate bowing to a man who had treated them with contempt." The tendency in the media, the author warns in this somewhat shrill treatise, is toward more and more supine, "suck-up" coverage of military operations.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

The United States was partly pushed into the Persian Gulf war by a slick public relations campaign on behalf of Kuwait. Concurrently, the Pentagon coolly executed a censorship program accepted by a timid, divided American media. That is the thesis offered by MacArthur, publisher of Harper's magazine, in his solidly documented indictment of media performance during the war. He faults both print and broadcasting for ineffective or nonexistent protests against censorship and for poor war reporting. (On obstacles to strong reporting in recent years, see Peter Stoler's The War Against the Press , LJ 12/86.) MacArthur deserves credit for illuminating interviews with CBS anchor Dan Rather and others, though his sarcastic tone, particularly on the subject of Pentagon spokesman Pete Williams, somewhat detracts from his argument. Recommended for media collections.
- Bruce Rosenstein, "USA Today" Lib., Arlington, Va.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 274 pages
  • Publisher: University of California Press; First Edition, With a new afterword edition (November 29, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0520083989
  • ISBN-13: 978-0520083981
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.3 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,139,018 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

JOHN R. MACARTHUR is the president and publisher of Harper's Magazine. An award-winning journalist, he has previously written for The New York Times, United Press International, The Chicago Sun-Times, and The Wall Street Journal. He is also the author of the acclaimed books You Can't Be President: The Outrageous Barriers to Democracy in America, The Selling of Free Trade: NAFTA, Washington, and the Subversion of American Democracy, and Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War. He lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Robin Orlowski on December 2, 2001
Format: Paperback
During the Gulf War, I was an elementary schooler who eagerly bought the propaganda the government. my school district, and hometown were promoting in the name of patrotism.
I earnestly snapped up everything and anything having to do with the millitary, American Flags or Yellow Ribbons convinced that our side was the right side--and unlike the war in Vietnam, the reasoning for deployment was universally accepted by the American people. Although I now realize there were people voicing conciencious objection to war with Iraq (because among other reasons, we had once supported Saddam Hussein's rise to power including oulfiting his troops with weapons when it suited our international interests and did not seriously care what would happen to the people of Iraq afterwards), if given any coverage in the national news at all, they were riddiculouslsy marginalized as outcasts who were living in a gigantic timewarp and did not understand that this was the 1990's.
My parents, having lived through Vietnam, were more cynical about the millitary opperation--but did not challenge the advertising marketed towards their daughter for fear of being perceived as unsupportive of America's objectives. Because they realized that the Gulf War was fought partly over US Petroleum interests, support was actually a more complex issue than I was receiving from media, institutional, and peer socialization.
MacArthur and Bagdikian provide a wealth of information for anybody who wants to revisit this time in international/American history and uncover the truth that all too quickly disappeared and was ommitted in the name of national unity.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 14, 2003
Format: Paperback
For anyone who still believes that we have a free, open, and unbiased press in this country, read this book. Before we go to war again against Iraq and start getting the government's highly censored version of events, it will be helpful to understand what we were told last time and why.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By "mascaras23" on May 4, 2004
Format: Paperback
I wish the author of this book had gotten more media coverage prior to Gulf War Redux. It is a fascinating look at the inner workings of the so-called free press, and the difficult and dysfunctional relationship a journalist has with the DOD, Pentagon...all those governmental "powers that be"....Check it out. Definately.
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6 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on November 2, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
And that's a lot more than the press had in its coverage of Gulf War I: The Prequel. For those of us old enough to have survived the Vietnam Era, we can recollect that some military and intelligence types blamed the loss of that police action on the media. (Even in that era, I found the media to be pretty wishy washy, but they got much worse.) Volumes have been released--some even by the Pentagon--that dispute that claim, but it was popular among Establishment types who argued that the US can do no wrong.
Then there was Granada. That I recall because it was so transparently censored--while US medical students in Granada, the ones whose parents could afford to send them there after they'd been rejected by US med schools, were praising the military's arrival just in time, an obvious placement of the right message at the right time. I thought things couldn't get any worse than this. But then there was Panama...
Up to the present, Gulf War II, following the subject matter of the book, we've evolved to "embedded" journalists, i.e., media personnel accompanying the brave military in staged events to make Cecil B. DeMille jealous. The process and material of this "war" was provided by PR professionals!
This book documents a mid point in that process. And I remember it because I was frequently furious during Desert Storm that every local VFW chapter was called upon to comment while even major newspapers abstained from printing letters critical of the event!
There's a lot in this spectacular volume. The author begins with explaining how the media plan was designed, the "pooling" of journalists covering it, to the objection of few!
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Earth that Was on May 23, 2011
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Harper's Magazine publisher John Macarthur has delivered an excellent piece of journalism on journalism, or at least, on war journalism. Macarthur's "Second Front", subtitled "Censorship and Propaganda in the Gulf War", provides a well written and easy to read, quick to read survey of the issues surrounding the media's virtual enlistment into Gulf War 1. Dedicated, amongst others to the great "left Jeffersonian" writer Walter Karp, the book definitely shows a Karp like attention to clear thinking and clear unencumbered writing.

Six chapters and an afterword penned in 1993 take the reader through the whole field. The "pool" system is examined. Modelled on British experience in the Falklands, it tended to control and co-opt reporters, turning the media's normally competitive instincts into a form of mild self censorship designed to "not rock the boat" and maintain the almighty privilege of "access." In prisons this is called the "trustee" system! Macarthur shows how news management preceeded once Desert Shield turned into Desert Storm, and how once the dust settled, how major media organisations, perhaps flushed with Victory themselves, failed to respond to restrictive regime they had just been exposed to. Although naturally beyond the scope of Macarthur's 1993 book, this "lost opportunity" to seek correction after Gulf War 1 perhaps better explains the weakness of the media in the subsequent dozen or so years than most theories mooted more recently.

There are two stand out chapters. One dealing with the wholly fabricated story of Iraqis allegedly stealing Kuwaiti baby incubator cribs is told in full detail. This story will surely be a textbook case of the worst kind of wartime propaganda for decades to come.
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