The U.S. military appears to have taken the upper hand in the fight to control battlefield reporting, a Kansas University journalism professor said Wednesday.
Ted Frederickson said Gulf War correspondents "seemed like senior citizens on a package tour" operated by the Defense Department.
At a University Forum lecture, Frederickson said blanket censorship and reporters' limited access to the battlefield broke with tradition.
During World War II, for example, U.S. Gen. Dwight Eisenhower told commanders on D-Day to give correspondents the greatest latitude to cover the machinery of war in operation.
"MY FEAR is that such battlefield access and truthful reporting is going to end up a permanent casualty of the Gulf War," he said.
Frederickson said defense officials have been plotting since the Vietnam era to develop a system that mutes the media during wartime.
"There is a tremendous awareness of the importance of controlling . . . the spin on every story involving anything the military does," he said.
To gain access to troops, correspondents had to agree to work in reporting pools, conduct all interviews in the presence of a military escort and submit reporting to censors, he said.
He said the U.S. military suppressed information about the bulldozing of Iraqi front lines, which buried soldiers alive. Censors also withheld information about U.S. casualties that resulted from so-called friendly fire.
"It exemplifies the huge stories that were never reported," Frederickson said.
In addition to official censorship, Frederickson said the 1,400 journalists covering the war engaged in self-censorship.
"I THOUGHT it would be very difficult for the military to prevent good reporting, with cellular phones, helicopters and backing from their editors, station managers. I was wrong," he said.
Frederickson said mainstream publishing executives didn't demand greater access out of fear they might appear as opponents of a war supported by many Americans.
Newspapers and networks must prepare for the next military conflict, he said. The people have a right to know how government policy is implemented, he said.
"These are public officials spending massive amounts of our money and lives as well," he said. "My feeling is that how they do that is of interest."