bureaucracybusters

CENSORSHIP: THE AMERICAN WAY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 14, 2015 at 3:29 pm

Midway through Stanley Kubrick’s 1987 Vietnam epic, Full Metal Jacket, there’s an editorial meeting of The Sea Tiger, the official Marine newspaper.

The correspondents are discussing how best to portray America’s faltering efforts to win a war that most of the “grunts” have come to see as unwinnable.

Lieutenant Lockhart, who’s presiding, wants his reporters to make some changes in the way they report the war.

LOCKHART: Chili, if we move Vietnamese, they are “evacuees.” If they come to us to be evacuated, they are “refugees.”

CHILI: I’ll make a note of it, sir.

LOCKHART (reading): “A young North Vietnamese Army regular, who realized his side could not win the war, deserted from his unit after reading Open Arms program pamphlets.”

That’s good, Dave. But why say “North Vietnamese Army regular”? Is there an irregular?  How about “North Vietnamese Army soldier”?

DAVE:  I’ll fix it up, sir.

LOCKHART: “Search and destroy.” Uh, we have a new directive on this. In the future, in place of “search and destroy,” substitute the phrase “sweep and clear.” Got it?

Lt. Lockhart (right) briefs his Marine reporters 

JOKER:  Got it. Very catchy.

LOCKHART: And, Joker–where’s the weenie?

JOKER:  Sir?

LOCKHART The Kill, Joker. The kill. I mean, all that fire, the grunts must’ve hit something.

JOKER:  Didn’t see ’em.

LOCKHART Joker, I’ve told you, we run two basic stories here. Grunts who give half their pay to buy gooks toothbrushes and deodorants–Winning of Hearts and Minds–okay?

And combat action that results in a kill–Winning the War. Now you must have seen blood trails … drag marks?

JOKER:  It was raining, sir.

LOCKHART:  Well, that’s why God passed the law of probability. Now rewrite it and give it a happy ending–say, uh, one kill. Make it a sapper or an officer. Which?

JOKER:  Whichever you say.

LOCKHART Grunts like reading about dead officers.

JOKER Okay, an officer. How about a general?

LOCKHART Joker, maybe you’d like our guys to read the paper and feel bad. I mean, in case you didn’t know it, this is not a particularly popular war. Now, it is our job to report the news that these why-are-we-here civilian newsmen ignore.

* * * * *

Kubrick’s film is set in the South Vietnam of 1968.

This was a war where military newspapers like Stars and Stripes offered a gung-ho, all-systems-go version of constant American progress against a tough enemy.

And where civilian reporters like David Halberstam and Walter Cronkite saw the war for what it was and labeled it a brutal, wasteful and ultimately doomed effort.

Now, 47 years after the events depicted in Full Metal Jacket, the Obama administration wants to censor the American news media as the military censored its own.

The President wants the media to stop using footage from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) during newscasts.

“We are urging broadcasters to avoid using the familiar B-roll that we’ve all seen before, file footage of ISIL convoys operating in broad daylight, moving in large formations with guns out, looking to wreak havoc,” Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for  the State Department, told Politico.

Stop using ISIL footage, Obama administration asks networks – Michael Crowley and Hadas Gold – POLITICO

The “B-roll” is stock footage that appears onscreen while reporters/commentators talk. It’s the stuff that keeps an audience watching the newscast, even if they ignore what’s being said.

“It’s inaccurate–that’s no longer how ISIL moves,” she added.

Since August, 2014, the United States and its allies have dropped thousands of bombs on ISIL–especially on its convoys–in Iraq and Syria.

As a result, claim U.S. officials, ISIL can no longer mass its forces in daylight–or move in large convoys.  Such large concentrations can be easily spotted–and attacked–from the air.

ISIL convoy

So how would the Pentagon like ISIL to be portrayed in file footage?

“One Toyota speeding down the road by itself at night with its headlights off,” said Pentagon spokesman Colonel Steve Warren.

Warren added that some of the B-roll the networks are using comes from propaganda videos made by ISIL.

Senior State Department and Pentagon officials have begun contacting television network reporters to suggest news sources switch to using more U.S.-friendly videos, such as Iraqi army soldiers being trained, or footage from coalition airstrikes.

When contacted by Politico for comment, ABC, CNN, Fox and NBC refused to comment.

Covering how Americans behave in war has proven a challenge for American news media since the Vietnam conflict.

In 1966, New York Times reporter Harrison E. Salisbury was allowed to enter North Vietnam to cover the war from their perspective.

His reports of heavy American bombing raids and their resulting civilian casualties and infrastructure damage provoked national controversy.

Officials of the Johnson administration charged Salisbury with “aiding and abetting the enemy” by reporting North Vietnamese claims of loss.

Salisbury–and the Times–replied that of course they were reporting what North Vietnamese officials were saying.  That was why he was there–to get the other side’s point-of-view.

So long as freedom of the press exists in reality as well as theory, there will always be tension between those who want to report the news–and those who want to censor it.

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