An important editorial in the Columbia Journalism Review on the need for journalists to report fairly and deeply into wars fought in our name:
General William Tecumseh Sherman, like a number of military leaders through history, despised journalists. Tom Curley, president and CEO of The Associated Press, noted in a recent speech that a reporter once appealed to Sherman in the name of truth, but didn’t get far. “We don’t want the truth told about things here,” Sherman replied. “That’s what we don’t want. Truth? No sir!”
Sorry, General, but yes we do. When a democracy goes to war, its citizens need to know how it is going and what is being done in their name. They have a right to as close an approximation of truth as journalists can deliver, given the limitations. The right to bear witness is part of what you fight for.
We have two wars on now, and not enough truth. The chief impediment is the media’s own situation—the vicious advertising recession and the economic upheaval. Going to war is costly and many newsrooms can’t do it anymore. Time magazine, for example, is the latest to shutter its office in Iraq.
But diminishing resources is not the only problem. The military has changed too. The quality of the military-journalist relationship in Iraq got better around 2006 under the command of General David Petraeus, who wanted officers talking to the press, partly as a way to explain his approach to counterinsurgency. But the window has closed.