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Context of 'January 3, 1991: Pentagon Censors War Reporting'

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Nine days after Iraq invades Kuwait (see August 2, 1990), the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton creates a front organization, “Citizens for a Free Kuwait,” almost entirely funded by Kuwaiti money. Hill & Knowlton’s point man with the Kuwaitis is Craig Fuller, a close friend and political adviser to President Bush (see July 23, 1986). Veteran PR reporter Jack O’Dwyer will later write, “Hill & Knowlton… has assumed a role in world affairs unprecedented for a PR firm.” [Christian Science Monitor, 9/6/2002; Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007] Citizens for a Free Kuwait is one of about twenty PR and lobbying groups formed by the Kuwaiti government. Other American PR firms representing these groups include the Rendon Group and Neill & Co. Citizens for a Free Kuwait will spread a false story of Kuwaiti babies being killed in their incubators by Iraqi troops, a story that will help inflame US public opinion and win the Bush administration the authority to launch an assault against Iraq (see October 10, 1990). Another public relations and lobbying effort includes a 154-page book detailing supposed Iraqi atrocities, entitled The Rape of Kuwait, that is distributed to various media outlets and later featured on television talk shows and in the pages of the Wall Street Journal. The Kuwaiti embassy also buys 200,000 copies of the book for distribution to American troops. Hill & Knowlton will produce dozens of “video news releases” that are offered as “news stories” to television news broadcasters throughout America; the VNRs are shown on hundreds of US television news broadcasts, usually as straight news reports without being identified as the product of a public relations firm. [Public Relations Watch, 6/3/2007]

Entity Tags: Jack O’Dwyer, Hill and Knowlton, Craig Fuller, Neill and Company, Citizens for a Free Kuwait, Rendon Group

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

The US Defense Department begins censoring war reporting from the Persian Gulf. [PBS Frontline, 1/9/1996]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

Victoria “Torie” Clark, the head of public relations for the Defense Department (see May 2001), develops the idea of embedding reporters with troops during the US invasion of Iraq. In a memo for the National Security Council, Clarke, with the approval of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, argues that allowing journalists to report from the battlefields and front lines will give Americans the chance to get the story, both “good or bad—before others seed the media with disinformation and distortions, as they most certainly will continue to do. Our people in the field need to tell our story. Only commanders can ensure the media get to the story alongside the troops. We must organize for and facilitate access of national and international media to our forces, including those forces engaged in ground operations.” [US Department of Defense, 2/2003 pdf file; Bill Berkowitz, 5/10/2008]

Entity Tags: National Security Council, Victoria (“Torie”) Clarke, Donald Rumsfeld, US Department of Defense

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

The Columbia Journalism Review reports on the procedures and constraints that so-called “embedded” reporters must agree to follow if they are to accompany US military units into Iraq (see February 2003). They can write about what they like, but must:
bullet Refrain from reporting “about ongoing mission (unless directed to do so by the on-site commander)”;
bullet Refrain from “reporting on the specific results of completed missions, or on future, postponed, or canceled missions”;
bullet Refrain from “breaking embargoes imposed on stories for ‘operational security’ reasons”;
bullet Refrain from “traveling in their own vehicles”;
There are also some other, more technical restrictions. [Unger, 2007, pp. 293]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Columbia Journalism Review

Timeline Tags: Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Domestic Propaganda

March 19, 2003: US and Partners Invade Iraq

A building in Baghdad is bombed during the US invasion of Iraq.A building in Baghdad is bombed during the US invasion of Iraq. [Source: Reuters]The US begins its official invasion of Iraq (see (7:40 a.m.) March 19, 2003). While most observers expect a traditional air assault, the US planners instead launch what they call a “Shock and Awe” combination of air and ground assaults designed to avoid direct confrontations with Iraqi military forces and instead destroy Iraqi military command structures. [CNN, 3/20/2003; CNN, 3/20/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 302] The initial invasion force consists of 250,000 US forces augmented by 45,000 British troops and small contingents from Poland, Australia, and Denmark, elements of the so-called “coalition of the willing.” [BBC, 3/18/2003; Unger, 2007, pp. 302]

Entity Tags: United States

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Events Leading to Iraq Invasion, Iraq under US Occupation

A study by George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs examines the 600 hours of war coverage by the nation’s broadcast news organizations between the coverage of the first strikes (see March 19, 2003) and the fall of Baghdad (see April 9, 2003). The study shows that of the 1,710 stories broadcast, only 13.5 percent show any images of dead or wounded civilians or soldiers, either Iraqi or American. The study says that television news coverage “did not differ discernibly” from the heavily sanitized, Pentagon-controlled coverage of the 1991 Gulf War (see August 11, 1990 and January 3, 1991). “A war with hundreds of coalition and tens of thousands of Iraqi casualties” is transformed on US television screens “into something closer to a defense contractor’s training video: a lot of action, but no consequences, as if shells simply disappeared into the air and an invisible enemy magically ceased to exist.” A similar study by Columbia University’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that “none of the embedded stories (see February 2003 and March-April 2003) studied showed footage of people, either US soldiers or Iraqis, being struck, injured, or killed by weapons fired.” In fact, only 20 percent of the stories by embedded journalists show anyone else besides the journalist.
Focus on Anchors - Author and media critic Frank Rich will later write: “The conveying of actual news often seemed subsidiary to the networks’ mission to out-flag-wave one another and to make their own personnel, rather than the war’s antagonists, the leading players in the drama.… TV viewers were on more intimate terms with [CNN anchor] Aaron Brown’s and [Fox News anchor] Shep Smith’s perceptions of the war than with the collective thoughts of all those soon-to-be-liberated ‘Iraqi people’ whom the anchors kept apothesizing. Iraqis were the best seen-but-not-heard dress extras in the drama, alternately pictured as sobbing, snarling, waving, and cheering.”
Fox News - Rich will say that Fox News is the most egregious of the lot, reporting what he mockingly calls “all victory all the time.” During the time period analyzed, one Fox anchor says, “[O]bjectively speaking [it is] hard to believe things could go more successfully.” Another Fox anchor reports “extraordinary news, the city of Basra under control” even as that city is sliding into guerrilla warfare and outright anarchy. Neoconservative Fred Barnes, one of Fox’s regular commentators, calls the competition “weenies” for actually reporting US casualties. [Rich, 2006, pp. 78]

Entity Tags: Shepard Smith, Columbia University, Aaron Brown, Fox News, George Washington University, Frank Rich, US Department of Defense, Fred Barnes

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

A US military vehicle pulls down a statue of Saddam Hussein in front of a small crowd.A US military vehicle pulls down a statue of Saddam Hussein in front of a small crowd. [Source: Fox News] (click image to enlarge)The government of Saddam Hussein collapses as US troops take control of Baghdad. To mark the occasion, a statue of the former dictator in downtown Baghdad’s Firdos Square is pulled down, seemingly by a group of average Iraqi citizens and US soldiers. [Associated Press, 4/9/2003] The celebration is later revealed by the Los Angeles Times to be a psychological operation managed by US forces and not Iraqi citizens. [Los Angeles Times, 7/3/2004] The entire event is a carefully staged photo op. The tightly cropped pictures sent out by the Pentagon, and subsequently broadcast and published around the world, show what appears to be a large crowd of celebrating Iraqis. However, aerial photos show that the square is nearly empty except for a small knot of people gathered in front of the statue. The square itself is surrounded by US tanks. And there is some question as to the authenticity of the celebrating Iraqis. Al-Jazeera producer Samir Khader later says that the Americans “brought with them some people—supposedly Iraqis cheering. These people were not Iraqis. I lived in Iraq, I was born there, I was raised there. I can recognize an Iraqi accent.” [Unger, 2007, pp. 302] Fox News anchors assure viewers that images of the toppling statue are sure to persuade the Arab world to see America as a liberator. Correspondent Simon Marks, reporting from Amman, Jordan, reports that “the Arab street” is angry, and it will take careful diplomacy to convince the majority of Arabs that this is not “an American war of occupation.” In response, Fox anchor David Asman, a former Wall Street Journal editorial writer, says, “There’s a certain ridiculousness to that point of view!” [New Yorker, 5/26/2003]

Entity Tags: Saddam Hussein, David Asman, US Department of Defense, Fox News, Simon Marks

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation, Domestic Propaganda

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