Researched Works

How Media Affects the Military

There are always two sides to a story. One bears the truth, while the other carries a lie. In the midst of information age, however, the media can influence the interpretation of stories. Journalists and others who have access to these stories can give weight to factual truths or provide spin to influence a story’s credibility.

Dealing with the Media - A Challenge to the Military

The military establishment has been a magnet to such media stories which has resulted in a love-hate relationship with the press, particularly when it comes to providing details about its operations. Yet, the media can be a military ally to overcome civilian adversarial forces in non-military “combat” like dealing with negative public opinion. Such alliances with the media can emerge through the extent or quantity of information, the nature or quality of such information and the formation of a cooperative partnership.

The volume of media information could weaken or bolster the ability of enemies to counter military operations. As Maj. Brad Lafferty and four fellow student soldiers noted in “The Impact of Media Information on Enemy Effectiveness: A Model for Conflict” (1994), less news actually contributed to the victory of the US military in World War II. The reverse happened though during the wars in Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, and Panama when the media produced more material to the dismay of the military.

ICT and Its Impact on the Military

Nonetheless, said authors believed that it was the rise of information communication technology (ICT) that led to the birth of new media and helped produce more timely data. It is also ICT that paved the way for a “new military/media construct” that allows for an overload of conflicting information that makes it difficult for military enemies to “discern valid intelligence data” as they access news coming from different media networks.

With the aid of advanced ICTs, the kind of information that new media provide can also be used for or against the military. In Fighting Back: New Media and Military Operations (2008), Dennis M. Murphy discussed how military insurgents and their civilian sympathizers used the Internet to release moving and still images of violent deaths and the anguish of survivors during the Israeli-Hezbollah War in 2006 to gain worldwide support.

Thus, Murphy opined that the US military should continue finding ways to maximize the use of new media to defy “dis-information” efforts and to cripple the resources of the opponent. This was what happened during the Iraqi War in 2003 when media allies of coalition forces aided Saddam Hussein’s ouster with increased field updates and visual reports. Some journalists were even allowed to accompany troops to cover their operations.

Media as an Ally

Maj. Bart Hensler’s “Military Leaders Must Understand the Likely Impact of Media” (2010) follows the same argument. However, Hensler emphasized the importance of a cooperative partnership that shifts the military’s adversarial stance vis-à-vis media towards a “soldier-journalist relationship,” built on accurate and relevant information, including those that could tarnish the military’s reputation. He claimed that “Full disclosure remains a hallmark of successful media relations to avoid perceptions of conspiracy or outright lying.” Forging a trustworthy collaboration with the media could influence public opinion towards the military.

Indeed, as what transpired with the Jena 6 story featured in print publications and online blogs, as well as with the Bradley Manning-Julian Assange cyberspace ties in disclosing confidential US foreign policy data, the military needs to address its love-hate symbiosis with the media in the context of fair and honest reporting. A good relationship with the media is essential to creating and disseminating significant information about the military, specifically its operations and its ability to defeat enemies. Moreover, such relationship can help sustain both virtuous and unfavorable information that could shape the views of a wider audience.

With the continuing evolution of media technologies and easier access to and manipulation of these technologies, it is time for the military to appreciate the positive side of the media and use the different communication and information platforms to its advantage. Certainly, the media could strengthen not just the veracity of military stories, but as well as nurture the integrity of the military as an institution.

Works Cited

Hensler, Bart. "Military Leaders Must Understand the Likely Impact of Media." Military-Media Issues, A Journal of Opinion and Commentary. William Allen White School of Journalism and Mass Communications / University of Kansas, 28 Mar. 2010. Web. 2 Apr. 2011. http://military-media.kuinteractive.com/2010/03/hensler-needs-a-headline/

Lafferty, Brad D., James E. Haywood, Thomas D. Klincar, Clada A. Monteith, and Susan E. Strednansky. "The Impact of Media Information on Enemy Effectiveness: A Model for Conflict”. Proteus, A Journal of Ideas. 1994. Air War College. Maxwell AFB Web Site / 42nd Communication Squadron. Web. 2 Apr. 2011. www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/readings/media-laf.doc

Murphy, Dennis M. Fighting Back: New Media and Military Operations. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College, 2008. Print.


Written by Leann Zarah (leannzarah@gmail.com)

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