Media, war, and public opinion

Authored by: Sean Aday

Routledge Handbook of Media, Conflict and Security

Print publication date:  November  2016
Online publication date:  November  2016

Print ISBN: 9780415712910
eBook ISBN: 9781315850979
Adobe ISBN: 9781317914303


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War has dominated the political communication research about media and foreign policy. The complex and evolving media–military relationship – and its implications for influencing public opinion about war – serves as a backdrop for this research. Through Vietnam, journalists were allowed on the front lines with U.S. forces but, especially in the 20th century, their copy was censored by the military, ostensibly for operational security reasons but in fact for more propagandistic aims (Fussell 1989). Most notably, images of dead U.S. GIs were almost entirely forbidden in American media in the first two world wars out of fear that such images would turn public opinion against America’s involvement in those conflicts. This era of “post-censorship” was replaced beginning with the invasion of Grenada in 1983 with one of “pre-censorship.” Following the lead of British media management in the Falklands/Malvinas War a year earlier, and spurred by an institutional belief amongst many in the military and the Republican-controlled White House that the press had played a role in losing Vietnam (Wilson 2001), reporters were kept away from the battle and left on boats to cover the invasion via press conferences. Although this media management strategy raised hackles amongst the press and many critics, it also allowed the military to control the message environment and resulted in uncritical coverage of conflicts ranging from Grenada to Panama to the Persian Gulf War (Sharkey 2001).

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