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About this book

News media, movies, blogs and video games issue constant invitations to picture war, experience the thrill of combat, and revisit battles past. War, it's often said, sells. But what does it take to sell a war, and to what extent can news media be viewed as disinterested reporters of truth?

Lively and highly readable, this book explores how wars have been reported, interpreted and perpetuated from the dawn of the media age to the present digital era. Spanning a broad geographical and historical canvas, Susan L. Carruthers provides a compelling analysis of the forces that shape the production of news and images of war – from state censorship to more subtle forms of military manipulation and popular pressure. This fully revised second edition has been updated to cover modern-day conflict in the post 9/11 epoch, including the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rich in historical detail, The Media at War also provides sharp insights into contemporary experience, prompting critical reflection on western society's paradoxical attitudes towards war.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Abstract
Since the late nineteenth century, war and mass media have enjoyed a long, intricate relationship. Like many lengthy relationships, their entanglement has been at once supportive and conflicted: replete with recriminations and declarations of independence on the part of soldiers and reporters, followed by acknowledgements of mutual need. The very technologies with which war is fought have also shaped the means of communication through which distant observers apprehend warfare. The kinship between the gun and the camera — both instruments that bring subjects into sharp focus prior to shooting — has often been remarked (Virilio, 1989). Few books about war and the media lack a dustjacket image that shows men with guns being shot by men with cameras. As this emphasis on sighting and scoping mechanisms suggests, mechanized warfare placed a premium on the ability to pinpoint distant targets with ever greater precision, supplanting more intimate forms of combat in which soldiers clashed at close quarters.
Susan L. Carruthers

Chapter 1. Mobilization: The Media Before War

Abstract
When Senator Hiram Johnson observed in 1917 that ‘the first casualty when war comes is truth,’ he expressed a sentiment that was already familiar. As early 1758 the English essayist and lexicographer Samuel Johnson had noted ‘among the calamities of war … the diminution of the love of truth, by the falsehoods which interest dictates and credulity encourages.’ Replete with lies, half-truths and obfuscations, two and a half centuries of war have amply attested the wisdom of Johnson’s judgement.
Susan L. Carruthers

Chapter 2. Total War

Abstract
‘There is no question but that government management of opinion is an unescapable corollary of large-scale modern war,’ Harold Lasswell observed in a pioneering study of propaganda (1927, 15). His judgement was based on experience of what was then called the Great War — the most destructive conflict in human history to date — in which every combatant state had bombarded its own population as well as neutral and enemy nations with relentless appeals, injunctions, warnings and threats. Writing in 1927, Lasswell doubtless hoped that his assertion would not be put to the test in the future. World War I was meant to be ‘the war to end war,’ after all. But with hindsight his words seem all the more apt. Many techniques of state opinion-management pioneered between 1914 and 1918 were adopted and adapted during the yet more lethal conflict of 1939–45.
Susan L. Carruthers

Chapter 3. Television Wars: Vietnam and After

Abstract
Americans continue to disagree about almost every aspect of the Vietnam War more than 30 years after it ended. What purpose intervention in Indochina served, why America’s military commitment escalated, how the war was fought, whether it could have been won, and if it should have been waged at all are questions that still generate vehement dispute. On one issue alone has something akin to consensus emerged: namely, television’s pivotal role in turning American opinion against the war. Television, it’s widely believed, lost the Vietnam war — for better or worse (Hallin, 1989, 105–6).
Susan L. Carruthers

Chapter 4. Other People’s Wars: Interventions in Real Time

Abstract
In February 1991, as the Gulf War entered its second month, media pundits in the United States noted a new affliction that seemed to be immobilizing Americans en masse. Across the country, millions of people were so transfixed by CNN’s round-the-clock war coverage that they refused to leave their living rooms, loathe to miss any breaking developments. The ‘coach potato’ of yore had been transformed into a ‘scud spud’ (Penley and Ross, 1991). As a result, consumer spending had nose-dived and the tourism industry was suffering. The New York Times quoted a young nanny from Washington, DC, whose symptoms were typical. ‘When the war first started I didn’t want to leave the television set, let alone travel,’ Bridgid McDonnell confessed. Only after some weeks, as the real-time war lost its initial novelty, was she able to wean herself off the addiction. For this syndrome the Times had a name, the ‘CNN effect’ — a phrase that quickly caught on, dominating much discussion of media power in the 1990s (Mydans, 1991).
Susan L. Carruthers

Chapter 5. Wars on Terror

Abstract
Over the past 30 years no topic related to media coverage of violence has attracted greater attention, generated more verbiage or aroused fiercer controversy than the reporting of terrorism. Long before the ‘twin towers’ fell on September 11, 2001, terrorism was already a highly charged issue. Thereafter, Washington’s Global War on Terror — combining military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Philippines and elsewhere with a worldwide campaign for ‘hearts and minds’ — reignited long-standing debates about what terrorists want, how they go about getting it, who the real terrorists are, and what position media organizations should adopt towards attention-seeking insurgents or approval-hungry administrations.
Susan L. Carruthers

Chapter 6. War in the Digital Age: Afghanistan and Iraq

Abstract
The 1990s began with much heated discussion over the rise of CNN and the power of real-time television. By the decade’s end technological anxieties had migrated elsewhere. Television no longer appeared the key locus of communicative power — networked computers did. Cyberspace had become so crucial for storing and sharing data that potential threats to this invisible domain occasioned widespread panic. As Y2K loomed, the air was thick with talk of a ‘millennium bug’ poised to cripple networks as a result of computers’ inability to make the transition from a year abbreviated as 99 into one ending 00. Unless corrective action were taken, many feared that systems would break down when the old ascending numbers assumption became invalid. Networks would crash; banking and financial transactions would snarl up; traffic lights would cease working; hospital equipment would malfunction … As we know, these apocalyptic scenarios did not come to pass. With hindsight they seem absurdly far-fetched. But they also provide a reminder of how quickly computers transformed almost every aspect of life in industrialized societies and of how much anxiety surrounded technological change at the dawn of the digital age.
Susan L. Carruthers

Conclusion: After War, More War

Abstract
War never ends when the shooting stops. On the contrary, struggles in the realm of representation tend to intensify once combat, that great amplifier of noise and dampener of debate, has come to an end. When the dust clears, strenuous battles over interpretation begin in earnest. Justifications for going to war are held up to scrutiny and sometimes found wanting. Journalists wring their hands, recriminating against those who lied to them and swearing never again to be so credulous, while cultural producers — film-makers, artists, writers, curators — shape the raw material of war into a source of inspiration or warning. Wars freshly ended or long since past provide opportunities to celebrate heroism, mourn shared losses, affirm a sense of community forged through sacrifice or to kindle the enduring enmities around which collective identity frequently coalesces.
Susan L. Carruthers
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