- Paperback: 318 pages
- Publisher: University of California Press; Updated edition (May 26, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0520242319
- ISBN-13: 978-0520242319
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 12 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,260,395 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Second Front: Censorship and Propaganda in the 1991 Gulf War Updated Edition
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"A brilliant piece of investigative reporting. . . . "Second Front "ought to be required reading for anyone who cares to observe how democracies can be eroded from within."--"Toronto Globe and Mail"
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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. Despite 24 hour television channels and satellite coverage, we haven't learned anything since the days of Lord Bryce and the alleged massacre of Belgian civilians by the Huns. Indeed Lord Bryce would presumably consider late 20th century / early 21st century moderns a more gullible audience. Macarthur's summary of this story is thus a useful resource. The 2002 Niger Yellowcake fiasco seems to me like the one true offspring of those Kuwaiti cribs. Macarthur played a major role in revealing this hokum to the world. It was his January 1992 New York Times op-ed piece that first told the story, winning for Macarthur a number of journalism awards in the process. This chapter is perhaps the definitive book version. Macarthur is perhaps overly humble in his narrative, he doesn't mention his own role in exposing the story. What he does mention, but not as thoroughly covered as the incubators, is the story of the now historically vindicated Russian commercial satellite pictures, known to all the major TV networks at the time, that showed that Pentagon "estimates" of the number of Iraqi troops and tanks waiting poised on the other side of the Saudi border were vastly exaggerated.
Another excellent chapter focuses on the "Vietnam Syndrome." Here Macarthur debunks the myth that accused the media of losing the Vietnam War. In contrast the overwhelming majority of reporters sympathised with Washington's war goals and even "radical critics" like Halberstam, were really mouthpieces for "the young Turks" of the Army and CIA. The Turks felt Westmoreland's West Point strategy was stodgy and lost initiative to the Vietcong, they favoured new tactics to win the same objectives. Throwing one's lot in with the loyal opposition hardly makes one a defeatist. The media did however turn against the war but late and for the most part the public and much of Congress was ahead of them by that stage. Still the myth of media defeatism in Vietnam became a raison d'etre for the military's desire for enhanced media management post-Vietnam. Macarthur doesn't say this, but the whole phantom menace of Vietnam Syndrome may merely represent just another example of the mundane sins of blame shifting and "killing the messenger of bad news." For a wider discussion of "Vietnam Syndrome" and the whole "Lessons from 'Nam" debate I'd refer the reader to Earl C. Ravenal's "Never Again" which attempts a taxonomy of the rival lessons mooted by different teachers.
I would recommend John Macrthur's "Second Front" be read along with foreign policy academic Robert W. Tucker's "The Imperial Temptation: The New World Order and America's Purpose" for anyone trying to understand Gulf War 1 and how this set the stage for America's current middle east quagmire. Both books have the advantage of being written before 9-11 and hence their lessons and logic strike me as deeper and less influenced by or less distorted by one tragic (but preventable) event. In short, the lesson I read from both these books read together, is that the apparently cheap and easy victory in Gulf War 1 was a grand illusion. An illusion partly fed by a media unwilling to criticize and a public, blinded by victory, and unwilling to listen to bad news. And that illusion has come back to demand repayment with interest. With the recent death of Bin Laden one wonders if the similar mistakes will be repeated.
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. The so-called "liberal-media" defered to government preferences and reporting angles in it's coverage of the Persian Gulf, reducing 20 years of profoundly complex relations in this region of the world to a binary presentation of "good guys v. bad guys". The ultimate loosers in this scenario of course are the American people who never get to see the full justifications of their leaders, policy makers and public officials.
Although we think of information suppression as something that was supposed to be eliminated with post-Vietnam millitary oversight procedures and policies, they continued during this event---in an albeit more subtle way. In the world of public policy, just because you cannot see something does not mean that it is non-existent.
Granted, looking at a gritter past may be hard, but this action is neccesary to fully understand how media and politics work together in times of war--and not necessarily for the benefit of the citizens at large. The timelieness of this scholarship is wholly appreciated and badly needed.
The premise is that the media needs to be proactive and report news, not just what the government wants us to hear.
For example: Did you know that fourty thousand (40,000!!) Iraqis were buried alive on the first day of the '91 Iraq war? Why wasn't this grizzly fact reported?
No wonder we are not welcomed with open arms by the people of Iraq. Propagandists believe their own lies if they tell them enough.
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