The Media and the Military

The media and the military

???Loose lips sink ships.??™ This old cliche reflects the fact that even in the pre-Internet age, there was a pervasive sense that public perception and knowledge of the military must be controlled to bring a mission to a successful conclusion. The public??™s right to know must be balanced with the security of a mission. Additionally, public perception can have a powerful influence upon troop morale, as demonstrated during World War II in a positive way and in Vietnam in a negative fashion. The military has historically tried to control the media??™s portrayal of the armed services. However, today, sensitive to the growing difficulty of exercising control over information in the digital age, it has tried to work with new technology, rather than attempted to stifle all forms of expression online and tried to avoid the appearance of creating propaganda.
Almost every fighting force has used slanted information, since the beginning of time. Propaganda can include using information in a selective fashion, demonizing the enemy in a black-and-white fashion, reinforcing common values and reasons for fighting, and appealing to people??™s hopes and fears. Propaganda is not necessarily overly negative??”in fact, during World War II, the media??™s portrayal of the German SS did not fully account for the true extent of the horrors that were being perpetuated by the Nazis in Europe. However, propaganda does clearly express a very particular point of view.
While certain top secret information cannot be widely disseminated by the media by law, the media can still exercise a powerful influence on the public??™s perceptions of events. The media has grown even more polarized, many argue, in recent years, which can make winning the hearts and minds of the American public even more difficult. The importance of persuading the foreign media should likewise not be underestimated, given the need for support for the US mission by a wide coalition of nationalities.
Although it might seem on the surface that ???less is better??™ when it comes to managing the message disseminated by the media, this is not always the case. For the military, ???as well as needing to deceive adversaries, in order to maintain public support, information to their own public must no doubt be managed as well. That makes sense from a military perspective. Sometimes the public can be willing to sacrifice detailed knowledge. But that can also lead to unaccountability and when information that is presented has been managed such, propaganda is often the result??? (Shah 2005). The public will often turn against the mission if they feel they have been lied to, as was the case during the release of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s, which demonstrated that there was a wide discrepancy between the picture of the Vietnam War that was presented to the public, versus the actual knowledge commanders possessed on the ground.
The military must also work hard to maintain an image of transparency, given how the propaganda disseminated by America??™s enemies has the ability to stir up anger against the United States, as was recently seen during the Iraq war. ???Posting videos that glorify violence against U.S. troops and Shiites, building Web sites, utilizing public and private message boards and detailed maps, and hacking into sites to steal credit card information are all tactics used by jihadists and Iraqi Sunni insurgent groups??? ([pic][pic]Iraqi insurgents use Internet to spread message, influence media, 2007, PBS). Terrorist groups have used the Internet to mobilize and disseminate propaganda that would not be tolerated openly through conventional media channels.
The US military used the power of the media online to bolster its credibility and even to encourage new recruits to join. At first, military blogging operated away from official sanctions: ???Through personal blogs, they [soldiers] could send letters home to friends and relatives in a single dispatch. They could mock commanding officers in ribald, and anonymous, prose…Many discovered, to their shock and glee, that thousands of strangers were reading their posts??? (Dao 2011). Although the Pentagon, fearing bad publicity and breaches of national security, ???once tried to control or even shut down bloggers,??? it came to realize the good publicity this could bring, particularly because it was grass roots in nature and not calculated (Dao 2011). The military ???has now joined the social media craze. Generals blog, the armed services all have Twitter accounts, and scores of company and battalion commanders maintain Facebook pages??? (Dao 2011).
Thus, although new media has created many security challenges, it has also had a positive and humanizing influence on the public??™s perceptions of soldiers, and created a sense of connection between civilians and soldiers. For the soldiers themselves it has become an important morale-booster. It ???blows off steam??™ in an indirect way, keeps them connected to the home front and civilian life, and gives them a sense of personal empowerment and communication with the outside world.
Blogging and more apparently spontaneous forms of communication, such as Facebook and Twitter, are often more apt to be trusted than formal statements of the military. And perhaps the most persuasive media messages of all are those on the silver screen: ???Hollywood has been working with government organizations to make more credible films for years (for instance, Jerry Bruckheimer and Paramount Pictures worked closely with the Pentagon when filming the 1986 blockbuster Top Gun… some in the press and in Congress speculated about whether the government will give Sony Pictures any pointers while they make a film about the killing of Osama bin Laden…[said] Vince Ogilvie, deputy director of the Defense Department??™s entertainment liaison office, told Danger Room. ???We want the portrayal of the military to show professionalism, cohesiveness, jointness, and dedication??™??? (Riffee 2011). Only through honesty (so long as it does not compromise the safety of its mission) and a willingness to show both the glory and the less attractive sides of serving in the military can the military fully secure the American public??™s and the world??™s belief that it is upholding American values at home and abroad.

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References
Dao, James. (2011). Military blogging goes mainstream. The New York Times.
September 19, 2011 at http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/02/us/02bloggers.html

[pic][pic]Iraqi insurgents use Internet to spread message, influence media. (2007). PBS. Retrieved
September 19, 2011 at http://www.pbs.org/newshour/indepth_coverage/middle_east/iraq/july-dec07/internet_07-03.html

Riffee, Michael. (2011). CIA pitches scripts to Hollywood. Wired. Retrieved
September 19, 2011 at
http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/09/cia-pitches-hollywood/

Shah, Anup. (2005). War, Propaganda and the Media. Retrieved September 19, 2011 at
http://www.globalissues.org/article/157/war-propaganda-and-the-media

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