Stephen Hess and Marvin Kalb (eds.) (2003). The Media and the War on Terrorism. (Washington: Brookings Institution Press) 295 pp. ISBN 0-8157-3581-2. $22.95 (paper). Foreword and index.
The Media and the War on Terrorism is a gem of a set of transcripts of informal conversations recorded during the Brookings/Harvard Forum on the Role of the Media in the War on Terrorism sessions lasting from October 31, 2001 through September 19, 2002. Each of the 18 chapters in the six subsections directly or indirectly addresses the role of the media in this time of terrorism. With the September 11, 2001 attacks as backdrop, the discussions touch upon views of the nature of the relationship between government, the military and the media, a bevy of bright, committed present and past members of the U.S. government, scholars, and foreign and domestic journalists from both print and television.
Threaded throughout the book are unscripted and pointed discussions on any number of ethical issues peculiar to reporters, journalists, correspondents and news anchors. They range from how advances in real-time technology shape reporter responsibilities in the field and subsequently affect the quality of news to be delivered to homes, and questioning a reporter's ability to achieve objectivity in "embedded" reporting, the extent to which lying might be permissible, to what sorts of images ought the media be delivering to American households (including an interesting portrait of the issues surrounding the airing of the murdered U.S. Ranger in Mogadishu).
Section 3 focuses on questions that look at the social responsibilities, and by implication the ethic, of journalists and reporters: Why was the Hart-Rudman Commission Report broadly ignored by the media? Did the media create a hysteria over the anthrax mailings of 2001? And to what extent is the media responsible for being the voice of dissent in a time when a majority of Americans seem reluctant to criticize government?
For students new to journalism, this book will be a balanced primer to understanding the history of the relationship between the fourth estate and the military (chapter 1), and it will provide a solid overview of the changing and burgeoning ethical issues implicit in the contemporary profession of reporting. For veteran journalists this book might serve as a reminder of the complexities of balancing the needs and professional responsibilities of both the media and the military in the Information/ Unconventional Warfare Age.
Jeffrey E. Stephenson
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Spring 2004 (15:2), p. 30.