In the battle between the military and the media, the troops are losing.
The reason is simple economics. Military defeats are, for the media, more
profitable than military victories. Good news doesn't sell. This causes
problems when you are fighting a war.
in the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Defense came up with the concept of
Information War. This new combat arena included both the traditional battle
over communications networks (which were growing increasingly complex and
important), information itself, and the impact of the mass media on military
operations. This last aspect was a result of how the mass media turned on U.S.
operations in Vietnam after 1968. Ironically, the trigger for that turnaround
was the Tet Campaign. This desperate attempt by the communists to trigger a
mass uprising in South Vietnam, was a major defeat for the communists, and
destroyed the local guerilla movement, the Viet Cong. But the media spun it as
an American defeat, and the Department of Defense was still trying to figure
out how they could avoid repeats of the Tet experience. But while the military
was pondering solutions, the media news business went through a transformation
that rendered the Tet experience irrelevant. In the last twenty years, TV news
has become less a public service, and more a profit center. Ratings, and the
resulting advertising revenue, became paramount. Public service went out the
window, and competition for viewer eyeballs became everything.
best example of this change could be seen in the reporting of the 2003 invasion
of Iraq. During the month of fighting that led to the fall of Baghdad, 51
percent of the U.S. network news stories were negative. By late 2003, nearly 80
percent were negative. During the 2004 Presidential elections, 89 percent were
negative, and by 2006, over 90 percent were negative. This despite a long
string of additional victories. The media became increasingly reluctant to
interview the troops, because they told a story that was quite different from
what the TV news media was spinning.
something else happened. In the mid 1990s, the World Wide Web came along, and a
decade later, over a billion people were connected to it. The majority of young
people, and an increasing number of older ones, were now getting most of their
news from the web. That's where the troops, and other non-journalists who have
been to Iraq, or are still there, could tell their story. Compared to the
network news, it's amateur night on the web. But the shift in where the
eyeballs are looking is striking. The audience for the network news gets older
every year. The younger generation of viewers are getting their news from the
web. While much of that news is still created by the traditional mass media, a
lot of it comes from blogs and independent news analysts. The traditional news
outlets no longer matter as much as they used to, and matter less each passing
leaves the Department of Defense wondering what their Information War strategy
should be. The most recent move was to pump out more raw material to the
general public, and thus the independent, web based, news outlets. These
operations don't have to invent bad news in order to survive. The web, in the
end, may solve the military's problem of getting an accurate report of their
operations to the public.