By Noah Connolly Barron

The first casualty when war comes, is truth.

—Senator Hiram Johnson, 1917


War has always been good for the business of government. It unites peoples, silences dissent, energizes industry and yields spoils of wealth, land and influence. When we look at the history of the United States—born in bloodshed—on through to today’s conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, we’re forced to see an obvious but troubling truth: war, perhaps more than any other cultural trope, has defined what it means to be an American.

And journalism, itself in the business of holding a mirror up to the people, has been there since the beginning, reflecting and distorting, glorifying and reviling our violent natures. Journalism has played Queen Gertrude to America’s bloody King Claudius, “the Imperial Jointress to this warlike state,”[1] seductively whispering in our collective ears that this next war will be just, necessary and by God, the last war we’ll need. Until the next one, of course.

The essay prompt asks for “three people, media outlets or technological changes” that greatly affected the character of American journalism. I posit that the people, media and technologies of war, in each of this country’s three centuries, have most greatly affected journalism in its largest sense. Journalism is at its most read, most powerful and most needed in times of war; it is during war that journalism most hangs in jeopardy, balanced between the poles of blind flag-waving support or propaganda-mongering and dangerous cowardice, baseless suspicion or moral relativism. Journalism—pun intended—makes its bones in war, and to best judge the informational effectiveness and moral fortitude of journalism in America, I’ve chosen case studies from three epic and internally divisive wars: the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and Vietnam.



When we first make ready for war, we inevitably draft the words which we will use to rally the troops. “It is significant that the Stamp Act of 1765 alienated two very influential groups: the lawyers and the journalists.”[2] Colonial America was far from united in the cause of war against Mother England, and for the most part, her trespasses didn’t affect them too much. But the Stamp Act—rather self-destructively—sparked the ire of the elite wordsmiths of the colonies. The tyranny of the Empire across the pond didn’t perturb the regular farmer or merchant too much—he was too busy happily making money in the prosperous colonial economy.

But agitators like Thomas Paine chose to frame the narrative in hyperbolic terms of collective oppression and trespass. In The American Crisis, No. 1, he wrote “Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet as we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly…Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to TAX but) “to BIND us in ALL CASES WHATSOEVER,” and if being bound is that manner, is not slavery, then there is not such a thing as slavery upon this earth.”[3]

Clearly, the boatloads of Africans arriving to be forced work the cotton fields of the colonies felt there was a kind of slavery worse then a little taxation without representation. But nonetheless, the rhetoric of Paine and his ilk worked; early Americans began to see themselves in terms of “us” and “them;” we began to lay the foundations of war between the neonatal American and her mother England by creating the conceptual divisions between those identified as Loyalists (Tories) and Patriots (Whigs)—what Bernard Mason calls “antithetical models of society.”[4]

It is interesting that the Radical propagandist Samuel Adams succeeded in getting the moniker “Patriots” to stick his rabble-rousing colleagues—of course, they were by any definition traitors—one can hardly be a true patriot to a country that doesn’t exist yet while betraying the nation whose citizenship one actually holds. But rhetorically, it worked and worked well.

Adams was a master of polemical rhetoric; he “phrase[d] all the issues in black and white, so that the purposes might be clear even to the common laborer. Adams was able to do all this, and his principle tool was the colonial newspaper.”[5]

Writing as Candidus—though perhaps being anything but candid—Adams created a language with which to describe the colonial situation that left no room for a middle ground and no possibility for compromise. In his Oct. 7, 1771 tract in the Boston Gazette and Country Journal, he wrote, “if he can find no relief from this infamous situation,—let the ministry, who have stripped us of our property and liberty, deprive us of our understanding too; that that, unconscious of what we have been or are, and ungoaded by tormenting reflections, we may tamely bow down our necks with all the stupid serenity of servitude to any drudgery which our lords and masters may please to command.”[6] Look what he does—he turns what is largely a political and economic question of national sovereignty—into a chasm of American vanity. No lover of knowledge or truth dare stand up to be counted with the Tories and their stupid oxen serenity to the yoke of England. Even then, the best way to spur us to war was to prick our egos, to tell us what we are—proud, noble, intelligent Americans, and then threaten us that if we don’t go and fight we’ll lose what we hold most dear.

It’s easy to paint the early colonial press as a pack of slogan-ranting zealots on both sides, unconcerned with reporting truth and dedicated only to drumming up rabid support for their cause. Luckily for journalism, that wasn’t always the case.

“Recent scholarship, especially the work of Stephen Botein, emphasizes that colonial printers sought to perform a nonpolitical service of opening their columns to all shades of opinion, a role that became increasingly untenable during the early 1770s. As late as July 1774, James Rivington declared that ‘the printer of a newspaper ought to be neutral in all cases where is own press is employed’ and publish all materials submitted to him, ‘whether of the Whig or Tory flavour.’”[7]

Unfortunately for Rivington, his attempted neutrality earned him an attack on his presses on May 10, 1775 and a second one, totally destroying them, on November 23 by Radical Whigs under Isaac Sears.

The forces of reductive divisionism won out and America went to war with England starting in 1775. Whether you want to call this conflict ‘a revolution’ or simply a fight for independence would depend I suppose on whether or not the nation the Rebels sought to create was fundamentally different than the one from which it split. That’s a topic for an entire lifetime of scholarship, let alone another paper.

What’s interesting is the way the war reporting of the battle for independence differed from the war reporting from the War of 1812. As I stated in the previous essay, Isaiah Thomas’ report on the Battle of Lexington, 1775 is as exaggerated and polemical in tone as one could imagine. He writes, “But the savage barbarity exercised upon the bodies of our unfortunate brethren who fell is almost incredible. Not content with shooting down the unarmed, aged, and infirm, they disregarded the cries of the wounded, killing them without mercy, and mangling their bodies in the most shocking manner.”[8]

It’s pure, infuriating propaganda designed to do one thing and one thing only: seethe the blood of Americans to the boiling point. Hell, if I read that and believed it, I’d go fight the Redcoats too.

Contrast Thomas’ reportage with that of the Boston Gazette in covering the naval victory of the U.S.S. Constitution over the British frigate Guerriere in August of 1812, based upon the eyewitness account of an officer aboard “Old Ironsides.”

“At 7, wore ship, and stood under the lee of the prize—sent our boat on board, which returned at 8, with Capt. Dacres late of his Majesty’s ship Guerriere, mounting 49 carriage guns, and manned with 302 men, got our boats out, and kept them employed in removing the prisoners and baggage from the prize to our own ship. Sent a surgeon’s mate to assist in attending the wounded, wearing ship occasionally to keep in the best position to receive the boats.”[9]

Note the detailed language, the careful accounting of numbers, equipment and time of day, and the surprising level of expectation for reader knowledge regarding naval war and seamanship. Gone is the shrill exaggeration of the enemy’s brutality and gone as well is the bloodthirstily jingoistic attitude towards victory.

What emerges—probably because it is from the pen of an actual veteran seaman—is a weary and compassionate account of a battle won with technique, tactics and superior knowledge, but costing both sides dearly in lives. In short, it’s tremendously effective wartime journalism, appealing to the heart by way of the head, rather than the other way around. By 1812, we had matured quite a bit in our sense of national self as constructed through conflict with England—and the reportage reflects that rather flatteringly.

The journalism of young America was much like the war-making style of young America—early on it was brashly divisive, all-or-nothing screed writers like Paine and Thomas that set the tone because that was the only way they saw to convince a people to rip itself away from its heritage. But as the country grew and changed, the journalism of war had to mature to match. Ironically, it would be the journalism of the Civil War—that conflict whose very essence was the fracturing of America itself—that would create a kind of journalism with more compassion, even-handedness and reportorial integrity than any that came before.



The conflict between the States is probably best described as the final violent episode in the ongoing saga of states’ rights versus Federalist supremacy. President Lincoln, despite his noble statements in the Emancipation Proclamation (a tremendous achievement in freeing the already-free), was upfront about his willingness to endure slavery if it meant salvaging the union. No, the Civil War was fought about the nature of the union itself, and the freedoms—economic, social and otherwise—that the states had from central control.

The first shots of the war, fired in 1861, were over ownership of Fort Sumter, not slaves.[10] As such, the reporting of the Civil War reflects two journalisms—one of the North and one of the South, with different notions about the roles of war correspondents and ideas about what should be told and what should be censored for the good of the war effort.

“No war had ever been so fully and freely reported before.”[11] New York papers often devoted a third of their news holes to war stories. Telegraph and rail technology accelerated the speed and accuracy of news reporting. For the first time in history, the news arrived quickly enough that it could potentially alter the course of the conflict about which it was concerned. And thus the utility that news intelligence offered to the enemy was all the more increased.

The telegraph too affected the style of journalism—giving us the summary lead we expect today from hard news stories. Because reporters in the field feared their telegraph lines would be cut in battle, they put the critical information first—so that the paper could run whatever it had, even if the signal was severed mid-transmission. Thus, out of wartime necessity, the inverted pyramid form, that bulwark of modern news journalism, was born. To wit, Lawrence A. Gobright’s AP wire bulletin lead: “WASHINGTON, FRIDAY, APRIL 14th, 1865—The President was shot in a theater tonight, and perhaps mortally wounded.”

In the North, the restrictions on the press were remarkably reasonable. At the outset, there was some confusion about what exactly constituted war journalism—and the result was a jumbled and too-far reaching censorship policy. On October 22, 1861, Secretary of State Seward issued a memorandum prohibiting telegraphing dispatches from Washington that discussed military and civil actions of government, thus hogtying pretty much any news coming out of the Capital. Soon, though the order was reversed and the press “reverted to its old system of getting news as best it could.”[12] The Northern papers managed in the end to strike a fairly amicable compromise with the military intelligence community and the result was vivid, complex portrayals of a war that was, for the most part, brutal, bloody and dismal-seeming for the North. That reality at least, was not too heavily sugarcoated.

Whitelaw Reid, reporter for the New York Tribune, turned in this eyewitness account of the Northern losses on Cemetery Hill on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg. Though Gettysburg ultimately proved to be a Union victory and a major turning point in the war with huge losses for Lee’s army, the early phases of the three-day conflict cost General Meade’s Army of the Potomac many men and crucial ground. Reid is writing under the pen name “Agate.”

At last the order came! From thrice six thousand guns there came a sheet of smoky flame, a crash of leaden death. The line literally melted away; but there came a second, resistless still. It had been our supreme effort—on the instant we were not equal to another.

Up to the rifle pits, across them, over the barricades—the momentum of their charge, the mere machine strength of their combined action swept them on. Our thin line could fight, but it had not weight enough to oppose this momentum. It was pushed behind the guns. Right on came the rebels. They were upon the guns, were bayoneting the gunners, were waving their flags over our pieces. (July 2, 1863)

Yes it is partisan. Yes it is dramaturgic. But it was also accurate and above all, it makes you see. That’s successful journalism—and in war, objectivity must take a backseat to the truth of the experience because the root of the experience is personal danger—the most single most subjective feeling of all.

For the South, the issues of journalism were not so much that of dealing with governmental censorship as with limited resources. Hand presses were widely used, paper and ink were not always readily available and Southern telegraph lines were constantly being cut. Confederate printers were “sometimes reduced to printing on the back of old wallpaper.”[13]

One of the crucial decisions among Southern newspapermen was to organize the Press Association of the Confederate States of America—a counterpart to the AP in the North. Pooling resources, organizing telegraph arrangements and circumventing onerous postal regulations allowed the PA to cover the war in a cohesive, collective way rather than disparately. In all honesty, the press coverage in the Confederacy was probably the least ragtag aspect of the secessionist nation.

Nowhere is this more evident than in President Jefferson Davis’ 1864 speech in which he requested that the Confederate Congress revise its conscription laws to make journalists eligible for the draft. By November of 1864, the South was feeling the pressure of a flagging war effort and the rebel army was hungry for more men on the ground. Davis asked the Congress to remove the journalists’ exemption (instated in 1862) and the results—unsurprisingly—were devastating to his credibility among the Confederate press. Though generally fiercely patriotic and loyal to the cause of the new nation, voices like that of Nathan Morse, editor of the Augusta Chronicle rose against Davis’ suggestion:

The people are the power. They will sustain a free and independent press. Let the latter do its duty…and at once crush out the hydra-headed monster—military despotism—that has reared its crested head at Richmond. It is very evident that efforts will be made at the present Congress to deprive the people of their few remaining liberties. Let the people notify their representatives that they must oppose any further movement infringing upon their rights. Let the press itself speak out boldly and defiantly. (November 12, 1864)[14]


It’s easy to imagine this criticism was entirely motivated by self-interested preservation of life and limb. For some, this might have been the case. But in fact, the printers of Augsusta had met for the purpose of “organizing themselves into a military company for local defense.” There was no ethical barrier against journalists taking up arms—rather, Morse and the other critics were concerned that if drafted, there would be no journalists in the Confederacy—a situation far different than a few journalists firing rifles in defense of their home towns. Famous reporters like Peter W. Alexander of the Savannah Republican and Felix Gregory de Fontaine of the Charleston Courier fought as “regulars” in major campaigns such as Antietam and then wrote about it the night after. De Fontaine, writing as “Personne,” described the Confederate line clashing with Union infantry along a road called “Bloody Lane”:

Before us were the enemy. A regiment or two had crossed the river, and, running in squads from the woods along its banks, were trying to form a line. Suddenly a shell falls among them, and another and another, until thousands scatter like a swarm of flies, and disappear into the woods. A second time the effort is made, and there is a second failure. Then there is a diversion, The batteries of the Federals open afresh; their troops, under D.H. Hill, meet them, and a fierce battle ensues in the center. Backwards, forwards, surging and swaying like a ship in the storm, the various columns are seen in motion. It is a hot place for us, but is hotter still for the enemy. They are directly under our guns, and work well, and fight for a short time with an excitement incident to their novel experiences of a battle; but soon a portion of their line gives way in confusion. Their reserves come up and endeavor to retrieve the fortunes of the day. Our centre, however, stands firm as adamant, and they fall back.

(September 1862)[15]

Both the North and the South succeeded in creating a unique language for the coverage of the war. Paced, dramatic, realistic and concerned with the details of life and death that occupy a soldiers mind, the reportage of the Civil War captivated readers on both sides. Because this was a war fought by Americans, between Americans, the suffering of the enemy soldiers was not ignored or denigrated. Because it was a war fought on American soil, the features and details of the land, buildings and battlefields upon which the skirmishes were fought figures prominently. Overall, the journalism of the Civil War was comprehensive, swashbuckling and compassionate—and fettered little by government intervention.

One final pillar of Civil War journalism whose importance cannot be overstated is the engraving. Though photos and daguerreotypes were made during the war—images by photographer Mathew Brady provide a deep and powerful account of the time—the newspapers of the time couldn’t use them. They lacked a method to transfer photographic plate images onto newspaper. So newspapers employed artists—woodblock engravers—to create photorealistic etchings of battles, figures and places to accompany the news stories of the day. It was laborious and time consuming, but paved the way for modern image-driven journalism. This was primarily evident in the use of maps by newspapers to depict complex troop movements in large battles like Gettysburg; readers were treated to graphical representations that allowed them to understand how the war was being fought in ways they had never done before. The power of the picture only increased exponentially from that point on.

The final generation of war journalism that this essay is exploring—that of Vietnam—derives its primary impact from pictures. The photos and moving images that came out of Vietnam contained in them a message that changed the course of public opinion, and with it, national policy.


By the time America landed itself in Vietnam, the believability gap that had split the public’s trust away from the government’s statements was already deep and wide. Nevertheless, the U.S. military permitted journalists to freely report on and travel within the warzone. General William Westmoreland said afterwards, “Vietnam was the first war ever fought without any censorship. Without censorship, things can get terribly confused in the public mind.

What he meant, in part, was that the freedom of the press in Vietnam allowed images, powerful, polemical, horrible images, to define the war for Americans back home. Critics of the journalism of Vietnam have often pointed out the extreme and non-representative nature of the stories during the war. Be that as it may, however, the “exceptions” are compelling enough to define the rule: Tet, My Lai, Kent State. The names conjure up photographs, the photographs that defined the antiwar movement.

In 1966, Michael J. Arlen, columnist for the New Yorker, called Vietnam a “living room war,” referring to the omnipresence of war images in the homes of America—thanks to the widespread TV coverage. Television stations dedicated massive news chunks to war stories, though experts have since concluded that only 3 to 6 percent of the images people saw on the nightly news showed violence, casualties or actual combat. In fact, the most startling images to emerge from the war correspondence were stills.

The military did not at first fully comprehend the power of these images as symbols. As the war progressed, and images of monks immolating themselves, Kim Phuc ripping off her napalm-soaked clothes, executions during Tet and American soldiers laying piled like sandbags on the tarmac soaked into the American consciousness like so much visual poison.

Journalists were first to question the sunny predictions of progress coming out of the Johnson and Nixon administrations. Nevertheless, the military censored nothing, partly because of the media’s demonstrated sympathy for “the American fighting man” and his plight.[16] What really jumpstarted the military’s corrosive animosity towards the media was when the media began to turn on the soldiers.

As I discussed in my presentation, the My Lai massacre was what really did it—after My Lai, the shining image of the U.S. GI as a plucky liberator distributing candy to children and democracy to the oppressed was as dead as the North Vietnamese villagers lying by the hundreds in the ditch.

Journalists came under fire for showing the war honestly. Morley Safer of CBS news shot a short documentary entitled “The Burning of the Village of Cam Ne” in which U.S. Marines are shown setting fire on the 150-hut village—ostensibly in response to Viet Cong fire, but Safer illustrated that the VC had long since slipped away before the battalion began its attack on the civilians. Safer signed off with “This is what the war in Vietnam is all about,” implying—factually—a pattern of scorched earth human rights violations across U.S. operations. Walter Cronkite used the package in the evening news and Morley Safer very nearly lost his job[17], all for telling it truthfully.

Because of the tensions between the mainstream press and the military, as well as the tensions between mainstream journalists and the conservative “silent majority” as Nixon so pungently phrased it, those radically opposed to the war turned to an alternative press to give them fuel for their crusade to stop Vietnam.

Freewheeling journalists like I.F. Stone of I.F. Stone’s Weekly had already established a tradition of Left-leaning independent newswriting. The 1960s saw an explosion of so-called the so-called alternative press—The Village Voice, Bay Guardian, The Berkeley Barb, and the most famous, Rolling Stone all got their footholds on the cultural cleft that was splitting America in two.

The language, politics, drugs and music of the counterculture movement clicked right into place in the journalism of Vietnam. Michael Herr, a young freelancer working for Esquire, spent his days hitching a ride aboard Hueys out to the front and spent his nights smoking dope with the grunts in camp. He wrote about the horrors and horrific humor he experienced in a few scant articles for the magazine. After the war, he published his rambling, psychedelic impressions of Vietnam as “Dispatches,” a book that came to the define the cultural freakout that was the Vietnam War—the films “Full Metal Jacket” and “Apocalypse Now” used his dialogue to color the madness of the war:

DOORGUNNER: “Anyone who runs is a V.C. Anyone who stands still is a well-disciplined V.C. You guys oughtta do a story about me sometime.”

JOKER: “Why should we do a story about you?”

DOORGUNNER: “‘Cause I’m so fucking good! That ain’t no shit neither. I’ve done got me one hundred and fifty-seven dead gooks killed. And fifty water buffaloes, too. Them’re all certified.”

JOKER: “Any women or children?”

DOORGUNNER: “Sometimes.”

JOKER: “How can you shoot women and children?”

DOORGUNNER: “Easy. You just don’t lead ‘em so much. Ain’t war hell?”

Herr acknowledged afterwards that many of the scenes from the book were expanded, truncated, characters conflated and that some parts were total fabrications. But for a war as hyperkinetic and hyperviolent, as drugged-out and mulled-over as Vietnam, that immersive sort of truth-through-lies seems to work just right. Vietnam, for those who fought in it and for those who fought about it back home, occupied a location square in the middle of cultural mythology anyway, so a bit of fudging here and there makes for bad historical journalism—but good cultural journalism.

Everything changed with Tet. General William Westmoreland predicted a massive attack on the U.S.’s strongest holdings in South Vietnam and requested the freedom to use tactical nuclear armaments—a sign to many that we had long since passed through the looking glass, leaving common sense and compassion behind.

On January 30, 1968, during the festive Tet New Year’s celebration, enemy forces attacked main cities and administrative posts in North Vietnam. The next night, VC fell on Saigon, the U.S. embassy and the presidential palace. The effect was scorching. Many North Vietnamese fell, but the scale, bravado and organization of the attacks demoralized U.S. forces and the ARVN. In a famous interview, Westmoreland was seen standing amongst the rubble and bodies of the new embassy, telling reporters that everything was under control. The images and reportage told the opposite story—U.S. viewers saw that insurgent commandos had punched into the heart of Saigon and held the embassy hostage for a number of hours before being taken out by American and South Vietnamese forces.

Mike Wallace said on CBS News that night that the Tet Offensive had “demolished the myth” that Allied strength controlled South Vietnam. New York Daily News reporter Jerry Greene called Tet “a potent propaganda victory” for the enemy and the New York Times observed that “these are not the deeds of an enemy whose fighting efficiency has ‘progressively declined and whose morale is ‘sinking fast’ as United States military officials put it in November.” Walter Cronkite, America’s kindly “uncle” who grew to the status of national conscience during the war, laid down this searing indictment: “We have been too often disappointed by the optimism of the American leaders, both in Vietnam and Washington, to have faith any longer in the silver linings they find in the darkest cloud.”

After that, American belief in a potential victory was irrevocably stunted. The wholesale carpet-bombing of North Vietnam was halted, President Johnson decided not to pursue reelection, and General Westmoreland, in a final flourish of hubris, requested 206,000 more active troops—a full activation of the entire U.S. reserve forces. His request was denied and he was “kicked upstairs” to the role of Army Chief of Staff of the United States—a promotion that put him well out of range for doing any more harm in Vietnam.

The journalists, essentially, had won. Had their been lies told, exaggerations made? Of course, but as a whole, the story—gruesome as it was, had been told truthfully. Journalism—like Eddie Adams’ Pulitzer-prize winning photo showing Saigon Police Chief General Nguyen Ngoc Loan executing at pistol-point Viet Cong Captain Nguyen Van Lem—had proved too powerful for the military’s propaganda engine. “A combination of public disbelief, disillusionment, and distaste for violence lead to a stalemate in public opinion.”[18] The U.S. began piecemeal withdrawals from Vietnam and our nation, thanks to the impact of journalism (with respect to Vietnam and Watergate, of course) was forced to begin a painful reexamination of our moral composition—a sort of national malaise of trust in government—that would last well into the late 1970s.



The obvious and unhappy question we must ask ourselves now, having reviewed the journalism of three of America’s most identity-altering wars, is what did we learn and how are we applying it to covering the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unfortunately, it appears that the government has learned far more than journalists at first blush. The embedding of reporters, the strict curtailing of leaks and the lockstep adherence to the party line on the part of Bush Administration spokespeople all make it tremendously difficult to tell the story of the war(s) with any penetration or power.

Yes, blogging on the ground by U.S. soldiers and Iraqi civilians is allowing us to see a reality that would normally be closed to Americans, but overall, the prognosis is rather dismal. Journalists have failed to keep up with the governmental stonewalling effect, and the long-term results have been disastrous. Stories like the lack of WMDs, the lack of Saddam Hussein-Al Qaeda connections, Abu Ghraib, Valerie Plame (we all know the drill here, the list goes on) took far, far too long to break and when they did, were relegated to cowardly buried page positions in the papers. The net result was a public who remained blissfully uninformed about their government’s transgressions. Journalism has fallen out of favor with the American people—for good reason. We’ve failed to speak truth to power and hushed our mouths when we should have shouted “Foul!”

But luckily, all is not lost. The truth will out—and it has. The resignation of Donald Rumsfeld and the mid-term election rout that the Republican Party received recently voice loudly the dissatisfaction America feels towards the way these modern conflicts have been prosecuted by the government. We forgot for a moment what the quagmire of Vietnam felt like, but it’s starting to seem a bit familiar.

As journalists, learning the lessons of the past is essential to forging a meaningful compromise with government in wartime (if possible) and extracting the truth from a hostile administration in wartime (if necessary).

The first lesson is simply to fear failure of reporting at all far more than fearing reporting badly. If the New York Times had simply run the stories they had rather than waiting, we might be living in a far different world.

The second lesson, this one from the Civil War, is that pictures count. How little America cared about prisoner abuse was suddenly given center stage scrutiny when we actually saw those repugnant snaps of Lynndie Englund with an Iraqi on a leash. Torture was given a human face, and though America is still split on the issue, at least the debate is still raging rather than simply ignored.

The final lesson, this one from Vietnam, is that government can no longer be trusted when it comes to bad news. Westmoreland’s happy-face act amongst the rubble and bodies from the Embassy attacks looks alarmingly similar to President Bush’s cheerful “Mission Accomplished!” speech. We as journalists must dig deeper, because in war, it’s the bad news that changes policy, not the good.

… News [is] subjected to Military Censorship. That is a given in wartime, along with massive campaigns of deliberately-planted “Dis-information.” That is routine behavior in Wartime—for all countries and all combatants—and it makes life difficult for people who value real news. Count on it.

—Hunter S. Thompson “When War Drums Roll” Sept. 17, 2001





  1. Andrews, J. Cutler. The South Reports the Civil War. Princeton University Press: Princeton, New Jersey, 1970.
  2. Bailyn, Bernard and John B. Hersh, editors. The Press & the American Revolution. American Antiquarian Society: Worcester, 1980.
  3. Beckett, Ian F.W. The War Correspondents: The American Civil War. Allan Sutton: Dover, 1994.
  4. Coopersmith, Andrew S. Fighting Words: An Illustrated History of Newspaper Accounts of the Civil War. The New Press: New York and London, 2004.
  5. Cray, Ed and Jonathan Kotler, editors. American Datelines: Major News Stories from Colonial Times to the Present. University of Illinois Press: Urbana and Chicago, 2003.
  6. Douglas, George H. The Golden Age of the Newspaper. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut and London, 1999.
  7. Emery, Michael and Edwin. The Press and America: An Interpretive History of the Mass Media, 7th Edition. Prentice Hall: Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, 1992.
  8. Hammond, William M. Reporting Vietnam: Media and Military at War. University Press of Kansas: 1998.
  9. Harris, Blayton. Blue & Gray in Black & White: Newspapers in the Civil War. Batesford Brassey, Inc.: Washington and London, 1999.
  10. Herr, Michael. Dispatches. Avon Books: New York, New York, 1968.
  11. Knightley, Phillip. The First Casualty: The War Correspondent as Hero and Myth-Maker from the Crimea to Kosovo. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore and London, 2000.
  12. Lande, Nathaniel. Dispatches from the Front: A History of the American War Correspondent. Oxford University Press: New York and Oxford, 1996.
  13. Landers, James. The Weekly War: Newsmagazines and Vietnam. University of Missouri Press: Columbia and London, 2004.
  14. Roth, Mitchel P. Historical Dictionary of War Journalism. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut and London, 1997.
  15. Sachsman, David B., S. Kittrell Rushing and Debra Reddin van Tuyll, editors. The Civil War and the Press. Transaction Publishers: New Brunswick and London, 2000.
  16. Steinman, Ron. Inside Television’s First War: A Saigon Journal. University of Missouri Press: Columbia and London, 2002.
  17. Sweeney, Michael S. From the Front: The Story of War. National Geographic Society Press: Washington, D.C., 2002.
  18. Thompson, Hunter S. Web article “When War Drums Roll.”, Sept. 17, 2001: []
  19. Wallace, Aurora. Newspapers and the Making of Modern America: A History. Greenwood Press: Westport, Connecticut and London, 2005.

[1] Hamlet, Act I, Scene ii

[2] Emery, 41

[3] Quoted in Cray/Kotler, 11.

[4] Bailyn, 231.

[5] Emery 47.

[6] Quoted in Cray/Kotler, 5.

[7] Bailyn, 232.

[8] Quoted in Cray/Kotler, 10.

[9] Ibid., 25.

[10] Coopersmith, 3.

[11] Emery, 132.

[12] Williams, Quintus. “A Study and Evaluation of the Military Censorship in the Civil War.” (Master’s Thesis, quoted in Emery, 133.

[13] Ibid, 138.

[14] Sachman, 441.

[15] Emery, 138.

[16] Hammond, ix.

[17] Emery, 416.

[18] Ibid, 417.