the gulf war
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Q: What about the role and performance of the press in reporting what was happening? Trainor: The press coverage of the war was pretty much under the control of the Saudis and the Americans, because if you misbehaved you were invited to leave the country. Plus the fact that we were dealing with a large area and a remote area and journalists couldn't really get to see what was going on. So in large measure they had to depend upon what they were getting from the military briefings. And the military briefings while they were honest, I don't think there was any question of that. There was no deliberate attempt to deceive the American people, but there was certainly spin control put on it. And the spin control was designed to make everything look good, particularly the weaponry that was being used. We were using laser guided bombs. We were using precision guided munitions of various types. And they were getting the cameras coming back from the attacking aircraft would develop the film and you could see what was going on. And of course they selected the best of these to put on television.

Now were we 100 percent accurate with the precision guided munitions? No there were lots of things that interfere. Pilot error, weather, smoke, fog, all sorts of things, little gremlins that get into systems. So you saw the best of the best. But I have to say the high tech weapons that were employed in the Gulf War, delivered as advertised, and in some instances better than advertised. It wasn't perfect, but it was certainly better than it had been in any previous war. And so I think the accuracy of the precision guided munitions was somewhere in the 76 to 80 percent category, depending upon what weapon you're talking about which is certainly better than we've ever had before. So what you saw was the best, but it was a pretty honest portrayal of the accuracy of the weapons.

Q: What's the impact of that kind of portrayal in terms of people's perception about war?

Trainor: The problem with the picture that the Americans got of this kind of clinical war where every weapon was very precise and did exactly what it was designed to do was to increase that natural American tendency to think that you can run an antiseptic war, where you have the pilots at 30,000 feet dropping a very precise weapon on a precise military target that just destroys that target and doesn't hurt any of the civilians around it and therefore one can carry out war in a clinical fashion with only the individual bad guys getting hurt and the good guys never getting hurt and innocent civilians never getting hurt. That's wrong. War is a dirty confusing thing, whether it's from the air or from the ground.

The danger of that kind of perception I think we were able to see in Bosnia. Where the U.S. people were supportive of the idea of using American aircraft on bombing missions, but absolutely opposed the use of American ground forces, because in their mind's eye it's safe to do it from the air, and accurate from the air, where it's a bloody mess if you do it on the ground.

Q: Tell me about the military's attitude toward the press. What's the strategy they developed about how to handle the press in this war.

Trainor: You're aware that the Marines did a beautiful job. Well, the guy that was the Marine Commander had been the Public Affairs Officer. Boomer. And so he knew what the press wanted and what they needed and he gave it to them. The Army saw the press as an enemy and restricted it.

Q: Talk about the Army point of view.

Trainor: We'll generalize it. The military that ran the Gulf War were the company commanders in the Vietnam War. And they came away from the war with the feeling that the American press had given them a bad shake, had indeed stabbed them in the back. And so they were very distrustful of the media, and would determine that they were not going to allow the press to paint them in dark hues in the Gulf War. The structure controlling the press was very, very tight for lots of reasons. Most of them good reasons. But it was a controlling structure nonetheless. What the press were able to get out to the public was pretty much what the military wanted them to get out. Now in general it was quite accurate and timely and the policy was to cooperate with the press, but that antipathy to the press that existed particularly on the part of the U.S. Army was reflected in restrictions on the press that were not intended by the Pentagon but were imposed in the field by people who were just anti-press. And the end result of it really was in a sense self-defeating. Because lots of credit that accrued to the military operations never got on television, never got in the newspapers, because by the time it was releasedby the military to get back to the editors it was already overtaken by events. It was old news. So they missed an opportunity. But there was a sense on the part of the military that we got back at you fellows in the press for the bad job that you did in Vietnam. We've controlled you over here. And in a sense I think that was true.

Q: Give me an example or two of how the press reporting played out...

Trainor: I think there were two events that took place that are fascinating in terms of the role that the media played. One is the anticipated amphibious landing against the Kuwaiti coast. The Marines were practicing amphibious operations in the Persian Gulf and the press was invited to watch it. Well, this was during a period of the build-up where there wasn't much news to report, so this became big stuff. But that led the journalists to conclude and Saddam Hussein to conclude that indeed there was going to be an amphibious operation involved in the war. Which was not in the cards to begin with. But there was the impression there. And in a sensethe press deceived themselves and they also deceived Saddam Hussein and indirectly deceived the American people. But it wasn't deliberate deception. It was a case of self-deception on the part of the reporters. But that was a very, very important thing because it ended up with Sadam Hussein putting six divisions along the coast to defend against an amphibious operation.

Q: Another interesting example concerning media coverage?

Trainor: One of the controversial areas over media coverage of the war dealt with the SCUDs firing on the part of the Iraqis into Israel and into Saudi Arabia and the success of the Patriot missile which was designed to shoot down or was trying to shoot down the SCUDs. And the impression that we got during the course of the war was that we were getting a lot of the SCUDs on the ground and that the Patriot missile was in fact shooting down the SCUDs that got up in the air with some great success. Well, neither was true. It turned out at the end of the war that we didn't get one SCUD on the ground, not one at all. We got a lot of dummy SCUDs, and what we thought were SCUDs turned out to be fuel trucks which on their infrared signature looked very much like the transporter for a mobile SCUD. But we didn't get any of the SCUDs on the ground. And the charge was made that the government used the press and lied to the people over the SCUDs. But the point is that Schwarzkopf and the rest of them, they didn't know that, they thought they were getting the SCUDs. But they were not. The second is on the success of the Patriot missile.

The Patriot missile which was designed to shoot down airplanes and not missiles was used against the SCUDs as they were coming in and we were all treated on television to the sight of the big explosion in the sky but then we were little surprised to see another explosion on the ground shortly thereafter and figured what's going on? Well, the truth of the matter is that the Patriot was pretty much doing its job as the government claimed, but the job wasn't quite proper. The Patriot missiles were going after the hottest part of the incoming SCUD, which was the tail, and would blow up in proximity to the tail and blow up that part of the SCUD, but the payload which was the warhead was on the front of the SCUD. And that was unaffected and it would simply tumble to the earth and freefall and explode on the ground. So in a sense yes, they were getting the SCUDs, but by the same token they weren't getting the warhead on the SCUD, which was doing... doing the damage. And so on both of these areas in terms of the SCUDs and the Patriot, the claim was made that the government was deceiving the people by these optimistic reports during the war, when in fact the government thought that what they were reporting was accurate.

Q: This control of the press compared to Vietnam, was the American public well served?

Trainor: There were some 2500 journalists out in Saudi Arabia covering this war. And to have 2500 journalists wandering all over the place you know, that's more than even the most hide-bound first Amendment advocate would support. So they had to have some sort of control measures. And they used the pools. Now the pool-- a series of a group of reporters would report in the name of everybody else. This in effect, turned out to be a control measure. And the idea was for the pools to be disestablished once the ground war got underway. And they were. But the whole thing is the ground war went so fast that the pools in large measure were still in existence when the war came to an end. I mean you can take the position that the press was controlled throughout the entire war and I think there's some legitimacy to that, and on the other hand you can take the position of the Pentagon that while the press was in some sort of a controlled position that they got free access to everything and that they were allowed to report accurately, and I think a case can be made for that. In general, I think the American people were served well by the Pentagon policy and the performance of the press. In retrospect when you look at what was said then and what was reported then against what actually happened, it was very close, very close.


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