Reporting America At War
About The Series
The Reporters
For Teachers
About The Series

A CBS News crew interviews American soldiers, 1967. Photo credit: Corbis Episode Two of Reporting America at War explores the erosion in the relationship between the press and the military that occurred during the Cold War conflicts in Southeast Asia and the far-reaching impact of this metamorphosis on the public's understanding of warfare.

The episode opens with the end of "the good war" — World War II — and the commencement of the Cold War, a new kind of conflict that first came to arms in Korea. Through the work of acclaimed war correspondent Homer Bigart and others, the film examines how the Korean War came to represent a turning point in the relationship between the military and the press, and spawned a lasting — and largely mutual — animosity. Skeptical of the U.S. government's strategy in this battle against communism, Bigart tended to report the news from the front accurately, even when it reflected poorly on American forces. As a result, the military questioned his loyalties and branded him a traitor and a troublemaker.

Less than a decade later, the war in Vietnam drove the relationship between the military and the press to the breaking point, as journalists in Saigon — David Halberstam, Peter Arnett, Mal Browne, Morley Safer and others — came to question not only the objectives of the American military but also its very credibility. Given virtually unlimited access to the war zones, subject to no formal censorship regulations, and armed for the first time with television cameras, reporters brought their critiques of the war directly into American living rooms. Eventually, the military would charge that television coverage destroyed morale at home, giving rise to the myth that the press had lost the war in Vietnam. The program assesses the impact of the first television war, and grapples with the question of whether the press shaped public opinion on Viretnam or merely reflected it.

Ultimately, the coverage of Vietnam would lead to a powerful backlash against the media to control the portrayal of the war. During Operation Desert Storm, most of what reporters saw took place in a briefing room in Daharan, where Generals Powell and Schwartzkopf cracked jokes and showed only pictures of missles that worked. With the emergence of 24-hour news, these briefings inspired a new kind of war coverage, complete with jazzy graphics and theme music. Ultimately, in the absence of independent coverage in the field, the military's perspective prevailed, and the antagonism between the press and the military hardened. Through conversations with journalists, military officers and media scholars, the documentary explores the sea change in combat coverage and its impact on the nation's understanding of warfare.

Reporting America at War concludes with the re-introduction of a World War II-style press policy during the Iraq War. For the first time in a half-century, American journalists were thoroughly integrated into the armed services. Clad in military garb and gas masks, journalists delivered their reports from undisclosed locations with the troops at the front, providing unprecedented live reports from the battlefield, and a round-the-clock telescopic view of the war. Engaging the current debate over the resulting coverage, the documentary explores the reasons behind the new collegiality and poses vital questions about the future of war reporting in the 21st century.