The Media's Impact On The Military p. 14

By: Debra Gersh Hernandez Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff says media coverage has
forced military to alter its approach to nonwartime operations sp.

THE AGE OF instant, global communications has forced the United States military to consider the media's presence and impact during its operations other than during a time of war, according to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"Is media coverage forcing us to alter our approach to operations other than war? The answer is a near-certain yes when it comes to peacemaking operations, a more hesitant yes in the case of more benign peace-keeping operations, and probably a no in the humanitarian operations, unless we talk of places like Bosnia, where all three are intertwined," said Maj. Gen. John M. Shalikashvili, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
"The answer is yes in peacemaking operations," Shalikashvili explained, because the security and safety of the troops are at stake.
It "tends to aggravate the natural tension between these two organizations, the press and the military, organizations with essentially very different missions," he said. "We all know the cases: the bright lights on the beach of Mogadishu as Marines are attempting a night amphibious landing; the hundreds of reporters awaiting in Port-au-Prince the night of the airborne assault, called off just hours before the sky was to have been filled with paratroopers."
In Haiti, Shalikashvili said, there was "the fear that the sky would have been illuminated by a thousand white lights, making glowing ducks of our soldiers.
"What is less well known," he added, "is that all major U.S. networks agreed to use night vision devices instead of white lights and to delay broadcasting for some time until the troops were safely on the ground.
"So, perhaps we are more tolerant of each other's needs than is generally believed, but we must continue to work at this issue," he told those gathered at the Robert R. McCormick Tribune Foundation/George Washington University conference in Washington.
"I submit to you that a young sergeant leading a squad to clear a narrow street would not show the same caution when he knows his progress is being filmed by a TV crew. He will be simply too embarrassed to skip from doorway to doorway and is apt to become a more likely casualty," Shalikashvili said.
"But when more benign, less dangerous operations, such as peace-keeping or humanitarian operations are involved, the tensions between media and the soldier are much less present.
"From my experience, for instance, in the Kurdish operation in the [Persian] Gulf, the tensions were practically nonexistent," he said. "And we not only were able to give the press full freedom to roam the operations area but we gave them maximum support to get around and to be better informed.
"The result was more factual stories filed, a better informed public, a better informed Washington and, thus, better support for us in the field," Shalikashvili explained.
"In fact, I submit that the press should be free to go and do its job with restrictions only in the narrowest sense for safety and operational security," he noted, adding, "and, just as quickly, those restrictions must be lifted."
The general recognized the existence of the "CNN effect" and said, "Surely, we went to Somalia and Rwanda partly because of its vast magnetic pull. Surely, the world's actions and inactions and political leaders . . . are greatly influenced by this effect."
In the face of "instant, global communication," Shalikashvili pointed out that our government should be able to make choices, even if they are different than those being shown on television.
"What if our country had wanted to go to the Sudan instead of Somalia, although only Somalia was on our screen?" he asked.
"I surely don't have the answer, but while these decisions will be harder in the future, they might prove not as difficult as we might imagine.
"Governments and publics will become more sophisticated," he explained. "They'll become more used to this phenomenon. And all of us more strongly will have our senses dulled by overexposure to pictures of starving children and atrocities committed by one group upon another."
The general said he does not believe, however, that the military has a role in using the media to advance one position over another.
He does think that "the United States military has a responsibility and a self-interest in understanding the needs of the press, and understanding, therefore, the needs of the country for straightforward information.
"I think the United States military has a need to understand that if they do not help educate the media on military issues, they only have themselves to blame for inaccurate reporting," he said.
Shalikashvili pointed out that the "best salesmen of what the United States military does" are the privates and sergeants.
"It is in our interest, I think ? unless truly, no kidding, safety and security are at stake ? to expose the media to our young people, for them to tell the story," he said.
"In the many operations where I've been involved as commander or some other capacity, all I've ever asked of those who work for me is [to] stay in their lane.
"What I mean is, when you're a platoon leader, speak only about what that platoon is doing, good or bad ? just don't speculate about what the president must be doing," Shalikashvili explained.
"The same holds true of generals. If you're a division commander, speak about your division, but don't tell me what Colin Powell should have done. Stay in your lane ? that for which you are truly the expert," he said.
The general said if the military adheres to this policy, "and those in the press do not put a youngster in an awkward position of pressing him about what he thinks about Clinton's decisions on this or that issue, I think it will be fine.
"You will get the straightforward, more informed story. We will not put a youngster in that awkward position. And we in the military, and we as a nation, will be extraordinarily well served, because they will tell it as it is.
"And it is, fundamentally, almost always a very good story," he said.
"And when we don't do things right, then it's better, I think, to tell it quickly and straightforward, because as you know, bad news, like cheese, doesn't smell any better with the passage of time," Shalikashvili noted.


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