In a fascinating documentary about Dwight Eisenhower, entitled, “Ike: The War Years,” one particularly arresting scene shows the general (superbly played by Robert Duvall) standing before a room filled with reporters, all ravenous to snatch the least lagniappes of hard news about impending military operations. Ike begins with bromides about how our courageous troops are pushing the Nazis back, and then he prepares to leave, when an indignant reporter stands up and blurts: “General, do you have so little faith in the news media that you cut off any further questions after feeding us this unadulterated bull? ”Ike marches back to the podium, pulls down a map, and proceeds to point out specific aspects of military plans to conquer Sicily, complete with what generals are in charge, where their troops will land, and what their missions’ goals are. He turns to his audience and says: “You gentlemen of the press are in possession of information that could lead to the loss of thousands of lives.” He then walks out of the room amidst a standing ovation, assuming that the reporters in front of him as well as the politicians behind him were responsible and patriotic adults who put the national interest above their own career ambitions. Once outside, he turns to his skeptical aide and says, “the press is as much a part of this war as the rest of us, Tex.”
Not any more they’re not. Thank God America’s most beloved general isn’t alive today. If he were, news of press leaks about America’s electronic surveillance of the country’s sworn enemies would probably have plunged him into his grave in nanoseconds. Then of course there are those jubilant New York Times stories about presidential declassification of National Intelligence Estimates, done mostly to debunk perfidies spewed by one of America’s most notorious fibbers, Joe Wilson. Examples like these could be multiplied; they amount to little more than the moral equivalent of a shark feeding frenzy. Eisenhower’s aide had good reason to be skeptical of the General’s magnanimous perspective at that time; if he were alive today, most likely good ol’ Tex would have joined that last roundup in the sky even quicker than his boss.
Which leads to an intriguing question. Suppose a number of today’s journalists somehow were transported to a World War II setting; how do you think many of them would report that global conflict? Let’s take a few educated guesses, some tongue in cheek, some tongue in both cheeks, but all in their own way quite serious. So tune your radio to the Andrews’ Sisters, ponder Bob Hope’s recent visit to the Pacific or European Theatre of Operations, spread that newspaper taut above your lap, nibble on some rationed snack, and read a few headlines. A fair warning, however: get ready for the Heimlich maneuver.
December 8, 1941: JAPANESE VISIT PEARL HARBOR! Flying a variety of multi-colored aircraft launched from aircraft carriers, the Imperial Japanese Navy indicated its extreme displeasure with American foreign policy by soaring dangerously close to our vessels of aggression. Rumors abound that some ships even experienced damage from Japanese misbehavior, which prompted an editorialist to comment, “We had it coming to us.” President Roosevelt proclaimed, “Yesterday, December 7, a Day which will live in Insensitivity…”
September 1943: PATTON SLAPS GERMAN SOLDIER! America’s most flamboyant general will be prosecuted for slapping a German soldier in a Prisoner of War Camp. The incident occurred when a captured Luftwaffe pilot demanded a cuisine more suited to his Teutonic tastes. Noting the general indignation among camp prisoners for being captured, one of the G.I. guards commented: “Those were some of the most Sauer Krauts we’ve ever seen!”
January 1944: NYT REVEALS GERMAN ENIGMA CODE! In a startling journalistic scoop, sure to win a Pulitzer for its courageous reporter, the NYT announced from its four star hotel in Berlin that Americans have been reading secret German military communiqués for nearly the last three years. Undeterred by accusations of treason, the outspoken journalist declared that somebody’s civil liberties somewhere were probably in danger by failure to divulge such information, which he admitted now would probably cost hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of lives.
February 1944: ALLIES BOMB SACRED SITE OF MONTE CASINO! Acting on impeccable intelligence that Germans were using the fortress, hundreds of B17 and B26 bombers reduced this precious legacy of Western civilization to rubble. However, after learning that hundreds of civilians were killed and that in fact the Germans had NOT occupied the structure prior to the bombing, critics called for resignations of all those responsible and demanded an immediate pullout of our troops from that area.
December 1944: GERMANS COUNTERATTACK; HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES PREPARES IMPEACHMENT ARTICLES! In a surprise move, a German counterattack knifed through the Ardennes Forest and Belgium, resulting in the senseless deaths of thousands of Americans and civilians, in an engagement being referred to as the Battle of the Bulge. Critics insisted that failure to anticipate this act amounted to criminal negligence, and articles of impeachment against the President were drawn up.
May 8, 1945: NAZIS SURRENDER; NO ATOMIC BOMBS FOUND! FDR lied, millions died! President Truman insisted that there were excellent reasons to fight the Nazis in spite of the fact that pre-war intelligence had mistakenly reported the existence of German plans to build The Bomb. He equated some reporters with a specific part of a certain animal’s anatomy in language too colorful to be reprinted here.
Finally, let’s consider this little gem: MILITARY PLAYS UP ROLE OF HITLER. “The U.S. military is conducting a propaganda campaign to magnify the role of the leader of the Nazis in Germany, according to internal military documents…”
Admittedly, this one really is really far-fetched, and perhaps cradling the headline with quotes divulges its roots in today’s journalism. But only a few words have been changed to make the point a bit more telling. The real reference here is to al-Zarqawi’s role in Iraq in a piece that appeared in the Washington Post on April 10, 2006, as a straight “news story.” The words “propaganda campaign” appear three times in the first four brief paragraphs, with the “U.S. Home Audience” as one of the targets.
Yeah, that’s what the U.S. military had done throughout its existence, waged “propaganda campaigns.” Along with saving Western civilization in three world wars, protecting freedom around the world, and toppling mass murderers in totalitarian regimes. By the way, today’s media, what do you guys do?
Never mind, no need to answer that one. We know already.