Winning CNN Wars

FRANK J. STECH


From Parameters, Autumn 1994, pp. 37-56 .

On the night the Gulf War air attack began, a senior officer in the Pentagon Command Center, watching the TV transmissions from Baghdad, checked his watch and consulted those planning the air attack on the Iraqi central telecommunications tower: "If the cruise missile is on target . . . the reporter will go off the air right about . . . (he counts down the seconds) . . . Now!"[1] ABC and NBC network reports from Baghdad, routed through the Iraqi communications network, went dead. CNN reports continued, carried over a dedicated telephone circuit to Jordan installed before the air attacks.

For more than two weeks CNN provided the only American reporting from Iraq. CNN's coverage of the Gulf War was unique and completely redefined live satellite television news.[2] The Gulf War opened the possibility that new forms of war and diplomacy were being born. "Television imagery transmitted by satellite," wrote one observer, "is irrevocably altering the ways governments deal with each other, just as it makes traditional diplomacy all but obsolete in times of crisis. . . . Instant access from the battlefield to the conference table and back again has enormous political implications both good and bad."[3] The TV coverage of the Gulf War created a phenomenon that has come to be termed "CNN war."[4]

The unique experience of real-time feedback at war's outbreak from the opponent's national capital offers a useful place to start thinking about conflict in the global TV age. Radio, invented near the turn of the 19th century, led to new arsenals of electronic weaponry that radically changed military operations three decades later. Radio technology spawned new approaches to strategy (propaganda, strategic bombing), operations (navigation, electronic warfare), and tactics (mobile communications and improved command and control).[5] Television, invented in the 1920s, began a similar cycle of innovation and adaptation in military operations in the 1970s, leading to the weaponry of the 1990s and beyond. TV and video are poised to change warfare as extensively and dramatically in the 21st century as radio changed conflict in this century, for policymakers as well as for combatants. To think of video as exclusively the province of the media would be as shortsighted today as thinking in 1930 that radio was merely for news broadcasts. The effects of TV, video, and global communications on conflict management in the 21st century will extend far beyond the relationships of TV news and the military. CNN war provides the first and clearest signs, however, of the implications of global TV for national policymaking and military operations.[6]

Real-time video on the battlefield and images of conflict transmitted by satellite to TVs around the world already have altered government decisionmaking and military operations in several ways. TV news carries information directly and immediately to top leaders, bypassing the entire apparatus of intelligence, diplomacy, and national security. "I learn more from CNN than I do from the CIA," President Bush told other world leaders; his press secretary observed, "In most of these kinds of international crises now, we virtually cut out the State Department and the desk officers. . . . Their reports are still important, but they don't get here in time for the basic decisions to be made."[7] Images of Patriot missiles intercepting Scuds in the night skies of Tel Aviv helped dissuade the Israeli government from attacking Iraq and fracturing the Gulf War coalition. Wrote one observer, "Patriot was given center stage on television for a significant part of the Gulf War, having a magical effect on the public's perception of events."[8]

TV viewers, including leaders, react emotionally and forcefully to images, and public pressure forces policymakers to respond quickly; President Clinton's advisor George Stephanopoulis has noted, "In the White House . . . we have 24-hour news cycles. . . . CNN assures that you are forced to react at any time, and that's going to happen throughout the time of the Clinton presidency."[9] Everything speeds up, and emotion competes with reason: "There's really no time to digest this information," observed one senior advisor, "so the reaction tends to be from the gut, just like the reaction of the man on the street. . . . High-level people are being forced essentially to act or to formulate responses or policy positions on the basis of information that is of very uncertain reliability."[10] The image of a single American helicopter pilot being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu almost immediately caused the Clinton Administration to announce the withdrawal of US forces from Somalia. Leaders communicate directly to each other through CNN and shape events through a dialogue of images: "You end up hearing statements for the first time," President Bush said, "not in diplomatic notes, but because you see a foreign minister on the screen. I really mean CNN. It has turned out to be a very important information source."[11] The House Foreign Affairs Committee recently held hearings on whether media coverage influences foreign policy and forces hasty judgments and decisions.

The concerns are many. CNN war leads publics and leaders to define political events in terms of the video clips and sound bites that compose TV news images. Conflicts that fail to generate good video fail to be politically real: "What I'm concerned about is what happens in the non-CNN wars," observed UN Ambassador Madeleine Albright, mentioning crises in Angola, Sudan, Mozambique, and Ngorno-Karabakh -- "Those are not on CNN. The question is how the international community deals with that."[12] Through CNN "everyone is seeing the same thing": publics see events when leaders and elites see them, as they happen, and "for the first time in history, the rich and poor, literate and illiterate, city worker and peasant farmer are linked together by shared images of global life," joined through "a hot line from self to self."[13] Spectators become participants while participants in televised events become spectators: soldiers in the Gulf War, watching TV, saw the folks back home watching the soldiers, watching the folks, watching. . . .

In January 1994 Yassar Arafat addressed, via CNN, crowds of Palestinian demonstrators, who in turn conversed, through the on-scene reporter, with Arafat, both sides watching themselves in dialogue. TV images become directly tied to political mobilization because "satellites have no respect for political boundaries, they cannot be stopped by Berlin Walls, by tanks in Tiananmen Square, or by dictators in Baghdad," and watching becomes participation.[14] Political groups "capture" images that serve their purposes and reuse them, creating new events to be televised. News media compete to broadcast dramatic events, which are repeated and echoed from one news channel to others, until supplanted by newer images. Consequently, the media emphasize event coverage, exclusiveness, and distribution of images rather than the quality, nuance, substance, and interpretation of news content.[15]

Given these concerns and the characteristics of real-time video, globally broadcast live from the battlefield, what can policymakers and military leaders do to adapt their policies, strategies, campaign plans, and tactics to support their goals in a CNN war? The remainder of this article examines the persuasiveness of video images, how leaders have employed images to gain support for their goals, and recent perspectives on CNN war and Pentagon-media relations. It concludes by suggesting ways to win CNN wars.

The Psychology and Sociology of Visual Persuasion

Modern scientific studies of persuasion began around the time of World War II, motivated in part by the widespread use of propaganda by warring nations, subsequently reinforced by fears of "brainwashing," communist and otherwise. These early studies focused on context: message and channel characteristics (for example, whether the message used emotional appeals, or stressed one side or two sides of an issue) and the characteristics of the communicator and the audience (expertise of the communicator, attitudes of the audience, similarity of the communicator to the audience).[16] More recent studies of persuasion examine the interpersonal dynamics of the communication relationship: reciprocity, commitment, deference, liking, scarcity.[17]

Images and interactive dialogues, key elements of CNN war, have not been the focal points for the sociological and psychological analysis of persuasion. Scientists cannot inform us how to dominate every political debate, make every TV program a hit, or sell refrigerators to every Eskimo. They have no touchstone tactics for winning every CNN war. The analysis of persuasion nevertheless provides some useful suggestions for our involvement in future CNN wars. Some psychological guidelines for persuasive communication:[18]

Great leaders often have advised that compelling speeches generate vivid, emotion-laden images.[19] Churchill's "iron curtain" image galvanized America's response to the Soviet threat the British statesman pronounced in 1946.[20] Communicators who depart from a prepared text and speak "from the heart" are perceived as more committed and persuasive, and extemporaneous speech is often recommended by orators for rhetorical effect.[21] Coretta Scott King described how her husband, Martin Luther King, Jr., delivered his famous I Have a Dream speech in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial:

Abandoning his written speech, forgetting time, he spoke from his heart, his voice soaring magnificently out over that great crowd and to all the world. It seemed to all of us there that day that his words flowed from some higher place, through Martin, to the weary people before him.[22]

People like pictures, and the believability of video makes pictures more convincing than words: moving pictures "seem utterly real" wrote Walter Lippmann in 1922.[23] People tend to believe what they see on video as positive proof. To make pictures more appealing, advertisers instruct, use familiar scenes with likable people showing favorable associations, and avoid anything challenging strong moral conventions. The viewer should not feel a need to change much in the picture. The viewer should perceive in the picture a promise that his or her desires will be fulfilled. The picture should contain, wrote advertiser Stephen Baker, "a desirable model for the viewer to be."[24] Alexis de Tocqueville never imagined television, but his comments offer provocative ideas on crafting persuasive video images. He wrote that American cultural products "substitute the representation of motion and sensation for that of sentiment and thought. . . . [The] style will frequently be fantastic, incorrect, overburdened, and loose, almost always vehement and bold."[25]

Sociologists advise that compelling video messages must be crafted into the framework of the television news media.[26] The credible news frame defines the characteristics of believable news stories: reports must have subframes that are personalized, dramatized, fragmented, and normalized.[27] News media focus on a personalized actor subframe--individual leaders, spokespersons, exemplars of the political actions.[28] Media images convey a dramatized story subframe: beginnings, action style, plot lines and sub-plots, settings and scenery, rising and falling action, major and minor actors with major and minor motives, climax and anti-climax, and endings that close with a chorus (journalists, politicians, experts, the public, or all four) interpreting the moral lessons of the drama.[29] News images are episodic, isolated in time and space from each other, and unable to represent all aspects and all periods of events, falling inside a fragmented, latest development subframe.[30] Images and events speak for themselves in isolation, without context, absent trends or progressions, often without causes to explain effects, lacking any reflection of connectivities and interdependencies.[31] The credible, objective news frame dictates a normalized, official sources subframe to provide the last, authoritative word on interpretation of events.[32]

When leaders are unable to sort out these subframes and fit political events and images into credible news frames (e.g., the chaos of Marines intervening in Lebanon, the Islamic revolution in Iran, racial politics in South Africa), media coverage loses its coherent story line, misidentifies actors, and scrambles the latest developments into perplexing, pointless mysteries. The resulting media images show the darker sides of CNN war (a destroyed Marine barracks, American diplomats taken hostage, race riots and terrorism), and reflect the bafflement of official sources lacking coherent frameworks for their actions and policies. In time of war, the official sources subframe becomes even more dominant. Media deviation from official sources might compromise security, provide aid and comfort to the enemy, divulge military secrets, or simply get the story wrong. Because the military and the government are also jealous of their images and the justness of their cause, war shifts the credible news frame much more toward the official sources subframe and generates persistent friction in the media-military relationship.

The credible news frame and subframes describe in workable terms the circumstances that create believable content in political news images. The requirements for creating or influencing media images, thus mediating political realities, become fairly clear. No matter how logical the calculus that led to a policy, without a clear and coherent story frame for that policy, there is little hope of building public understanding or support. "If an administration has thought its own foreign policy through and is prepared and able to argue the merits and defend the consequences of that policy, television and all its new technologies can be dealt with," one TV anchor advised the House Foreign Affairs Committee.[33] Psychological guidelines and sociological frames offer some tactical foundations for supporting policies in future CNN wars. Tactics are important, as recent events show.

Somalia and CNN War Image Exploitation

Foreign policy experts were harsh in their assessments of President Clinton's quick shift of US Somalia policy after the broadcast of images from the Rangers' fight in Mogadishu. Clinton's willingness to negotiate, rather than continue efforts to capture the warlord Aidid, was criticized as weakness, sending the wrong signals. "We have no interest in denying anybody access to playing a role in Somalia's political future," the President was quoted the week after the attack on the Rangers. That shift was exactly wrong, commented former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, who argued that failing to strike back virtually guaranteed that the wrong lesson would be learned. The world's other mischief-makers will have no fear, Kissinger warned, unless the United States reduces Aidid's "power base so that it's apparent that when you tackle the US in the brutal way in which it has been done there is a penalty."[34] Kissinger offered a realpolitik perspective on the tactics of "mischief-makers." Futurist Chuck de Caro offered a media-oriented perspective--the Somalia crisis, amplified through global TV imagery, enabled other "mischief-makers" to create TV news images for their own purposes:

A tenth-rate tin-pot Haitian dictator using global TV as a C3I mechanism judges the likely reaction of the United States in the wake of . . . the video of Rangers being killed and mutilated in Somalia. He optimizes his mil-pol moves to retard US intervention by having a handful of rabble go to a dock [and] mug-angrily-on-cue for global TV. He thus turns away a US warship (albeit on a UN mission) with nothing more than the video of an alleged angry mob that generates the perception of imminent bloodshed that is projected and amplified by TV. Matters are made worse by the perception of the US LST retreating from the scene.[35]

US policymakers and military leaders failed to convey to the public the reasons for shifting US goals and missions in Somalia, or the possible consequences of the changing relations with the UN and with the warlords. There had been insufficient warnings to foreshadow the growing Somali hostility to the UN, or the buildup to events of this magnitude.[36] Media stories failed to link the complexities of US-UN disagreements, Somali warlord politics, tensions between military peacekeepers and non-governmental aid organizations (many vigorously pacifist), and shifting US missions. The Administration offered no credible news frames for the secret operations of the Rangers, offered no immediate public eulogies to redeem their losses, and failed to link the hunt for Aidid to the larger relief and stability operations.[37] When the Rangers' mission turned into open, bloody conflict with Aidid's Mogadishu militia, there was no public opinion foundation for what happened or why. Rather than representing the gun battle as the climax of a policy that had gone astray, but was now being put back on track, the Administration was left without a coherent explanation of the catastrophe and seemed to have no clear policy goals in Somalia. The horror and seeming pointlessness of the Rangers' deaths challenged the US Somali presence in the public's mind.[38]

If the Clinton Administration was unprepared for the images of the debacle in Mogadishu's streets, it quickly used them to restore some stability.[39] "Penalties" and "reducing power bases," Kissinger's realpolitik levers of power, become less significant than perceptions of these things. The critics of the Administration's response to the Somali CNN war were right about its negative effects on US reactions. When events went bad, the Clinton Administration lacked credible news frames for the images and perceptions. Faced with the darker side of CNN war, it was unready to defend policies and events which formed no coherent story. The outcome of the Rangers' fight was militarily insignificant; the TV images and lack of a media plan to explain Administration policies made the losses politically overwhelming.

Yet planning explanations of policies and actions using the guidelines for persuasive and credible news frames is not enough. Events in CNN war do not unfold as monologues, but in dialogues, with allies, neutrals, and opponents. Preparing for CNN wars requires a readiness to hear and respond to the voices and images of others, shaping messages into cogent harmony with perceptions of these dialogues. Just as greatness in battle requires an instinctive eye for the interplay of terrain and opposing forces, campaigns in CNN war require a coup d'oeil for the images juste, an instinctive ability to incorporate compelling images in support of political and military goals. History and recent events offer suggestive examples of such operational art.

Signs, Symbols, and Presidential Semiotics

Leaders seek compelling signs and engaging symbols to tell the public the stories behind their policies and actions; they practice the "semiotic" creation of reality.[40] Signs are composed of sounds and images, and the concepts these images represent. Images of things (e.g., a carefree Mickey Mouse) become the signs of something else (life in free societies), and serve as "combat graphics" on the campaign maps of CNN war.

Presidents have long used audience involvement, cultural symbols, and images to their advantage in telling their stories. During World War II President Roosevelt communicated the course of the fighting to the nation over the national radio networks during his "fireside chats." He suggested that listeners buy maps in order to follow along with him the paths of the advancing Allied forces, and he referred them to the images in newsreels, Life, Saturday Evening Post, Time, and the other media of the day. Besides stoking the already voracious appetites for news of the war, his suggestions generated a national flurry of map-buying, a significant increase in the geographic sophistication of the nation, and a personal feeling of involvement in the course of the war.[41] Roosevelt was adept at weaving semiographic signs from mass culture into his persuasive political Weltanschauung. For example, when Colonel Jimmy Doolittle flew Army bombers off Navy aircraft carriers against Tokyo, Roosevelt whimsically preserved security and added to the propaganda effect by identifying the aviators' base as "Shangri-La," referring to the mythical locale in a popular novel and movie.[42] Roosevelt also capitalized on the timely appearance of the film Casablanca to reinforce his policies toward Vichy France and the Free French, celebrate the North African landings as a victory, anchor public commitment to the war, and boost his own stature.[43]

The Gulf War duel between Saddam Hussein's Scud ballistic missiles and President Bush's Patriot missiles created an interactive dialogue of images, which fitted precisely the credible news frame. First the dramatic initial panic: did the Scuds carry chemical warheads?[44] Then the diplomatic crisis: would Israel retaliate and split Bush's fragile, carefully crafted Gulf coalition?[45] "Saddam . . . had started a war of imagery: the gas masks, the rubble, the frantic reporters," a history of the war summarized, and "the coalition countered with its own captivating imagery: the Patriot in action."[46

The world watched the TV debut of the "bullet that hits a bullet."[47] One after another of Iraq's vaunted Scuds were visibly destroyed by the spectacular Patriot interceptors: coalition high-tech dominating Saddam's crude terror weapon. President Bush, televised at the Raytheon Patriot factory, claimed 41 out of 42 Patriots hit their targets. The Patriots helped keep the Israeli war machine out of the Gulf War, and thus the coalition held together. Only a handful of Arab nations expressed any support for Iraq's Scud campaign; most condemned Saddam's attacks on his Saudi brothers. Saddam lost the dialogue of images.[48] The political and psychological consequences of images of Patriot and Scud dueling in the desert night skies provide a classic example of presidential semiotics and operational art in CNN war.[49]

The use of images, cultural symbols, even fantasies (for example, myths about the founding fathers, or films about historic events) to create or reinforce the realities that they signify has strong psychological roots as well as significant political efficacy.[50] These shorthand signifiers help us understand and conceptualize what might otherwise seem chaotic. French President Mitterrand, filmed walking through the rubble of besieged Sarajevo, helped his countrymen understand why France supplied most of Bosnia's UN peacekeepers. The heavily watched 1994 Winter Olympics TV coverage contrasted scenes of Olympic- village-pristine Sarajevo in 1984 with contemporary scenes of war-ravaged Sarejevo's mangled bodies and buildings; viewers saw Sarejevo's weary civilians watching themselves watching the televised contrasts. These compelling images reinforced the shock effect of scenes of the marketplace casualties of a Serbian mortar attack; they could have helped coalesce US support for tougher NATO and UN policies toward the Bosnian Serbs.

In the era of CNN wars, leaders and the public play out political fantasies on a stage of televised realities. Late-breaking video news sustains our involvement and opportunities to interact with the images (if only vicariously) and thus maintains our participation. We decide our loyalties and commitments against image backdrops of ongoing events: testimony of Iraqi soldiers stealing incubators and leaving Kuwaiti babies to die, Patriot missiles destroying Scuds, Yeltsin atop a Soviet tank, dead Ranger heroes being desecrated. We can fancy ourselves in our own TV versions of Casablanca, living amidst wars, coups, and revolutions, and we decide to support (or not) real heroes, causes, and sides. To use the dialogue of images in the operations of future CNN wars, then, is to lead with image-filled stories, shaped around the TV scenes we all see--to provide compelling pictures formed with persuasive signs and symbols.

Perspectives on CNN War

Military analysts have foreshadowed many of the issues of CNN war.[51] The implications and requirements of the information age increasingly influence national military policy planning. The 1991 Bush Administration's National Security Strategy of the United States noted:

Recent history has shown how much ideas count. The Cold War was, in its decisive aspect, a war of ideas. But ideas count only when knowledge spreads. . . . In the face of the global explosion of information . . . ideas and information will take on larger significance. . . . A truly global community is being formed.[52]

The final National Security Strategy produced by that Administration carried the point further: "Our influence will increasingly be defined more by the quality of our ideas, values, and leadership . . . than by the predominance of our military capabilities."[53] Clinton-era defense planning embodies the demands of CNN war in its assumptions:

In this era of almost instant communication, the demands on US military forces seem almost endless, as the pictures of human misery from around the globe compete for air-time. . . . America must pursue political, economic, and military engagement internationally. . . . Around the world, America's power, authority, and example provide unparalleled opportunities to lead.[54]

The need for new ways to conduct military operations in the age of video and information has begun to appear in think-tank studies. The authors of The Military Technical Revolution call on US military forces to be prepared to "fight a CNN war." They write of this requirement:

US forces must be capable of responding to media demands for instantaneous information, and of using the rapid transmission of data to its advantage. This magnifies the importance of tending to image considerations. . . . But it also suggests the need for greater information dominance and for some thought about how modern, real-time news reporting can be used to US advantage in future military operations.[55]

Despite the attentions of the White House, the assumptions of the Pentagon, and the insights of the think-tanks, military theorists seem remarkably slow in addressing the implications of CNN war for military operations. Although the service war colleges have launched research programs and symposia on the subject of "the media and the military," the focus is largely on the relationships between these institutions, rather than the challenge to explore ways in which "image considerations" and "real-time news reporting" might be used to advantage in future military operations. The war college analyses seem to reflect a "glass half-empty" view of media effects on military operations; at best the media represent a necessary evil for commanders to deal with, rather than an opportunity to gain military advantages.[56] Even those analysts who recognize the potential interplay of video news reporting and military psychological operations seem to favor a coercive rather than a cooperative approach.[57] It is also remarkable that so few lessons in the use of media assets seem to have been drawn from the internal overthrow of the communist regimes of east Europe or the dissolution of the Soviet empire.

The Pentagon and the Media

While many writers have addressed media-military relations in the wake of the 1990-91 Gulf War, these analysts have not addressed the issues of CNN war. To date this commentary has emphasized the standoff between the press, demanding openness from the military authorities, and the Pentagon, requiring control over the press (and getting it to a great extent, along with public approval). Several observers have faulted the Pentagon's media strategy during the Gulf War. One writes that the White House and the Pentagon followed a deliberate policy of blocking negative and unflattering news from reaching the US public lest it weaken support for the war. This account notes that other observers argued that press restrictions went beyond security concerns and appeared to be aimed at preventing damaging disclosures by US soldiers, thus shielding the American public from the brutality of war.[58]

Another commentator, discussing Pentagon-media relations at an October 1991 MIT symposium on "Reporting the Gulf War," noted the consistent bias of Army officers against the media. The speaker pointed out how Army censors delayed releasing news stories they feared would generate adverse publicity, which got the stories spiked by deadline-driven editors, but consequently generated bad feelings between the Army and press reporters. In so doing, the Army allegedly missed a tremendous opportunity to use the press to show the American public how well the Army performed in the desert war. In contrast, the speaker noted, Marines in the Gulf, headed by a former Public Affairs Officer, Lieutenant General Walter Boomer, went out of their way to be open and to assist the press, which contributed to extremely positive press coverage.[59] Further, the Marines seemed to have fully incorporated the press in their Gulf War campaign of information dominance.[60] A Marine Corps representative, speaking at the MIT Symposium, argued that the press coverage acted as a Marine Corps "force multiplier" by keeping Marines motivated and keeping US and world opinion firmly behind the Marines. As a result, noted MIT's Trevor Thrall: "The Marine Corps, and not the Army, received a disproportionate share of good PR from the war, even though it was the Army which was responsible for the bulk of the fighting, including the critical `Hail Mary' [General Schwarzkopf's flanking of Iraqi forces in the western desert]."[61]

A recent Air University thesis argues that "media spin" has become a new principle of war.[62] Media spin is defined as "paying close attention to public relations, recognizing that public support is an essential ingredient of combat success." The military must not take media coverage of combat operations for granted, and should avoid operations that will alienate public support, while ensuring maximum media coverage of success stories: "In an age where 24-hour instantaneous battlefield news coverage is a fact of life," the thesis argues, "paying attention to media spin is of paramount importance; for a combat commander, anything less would be irresponsible." That writer, like many military observers, sees a clash between the media and the military as a zero-sum game, where the military wins by keeping secrets, and the media wins by revealing them. Public relations concerns do affect military decisions, but the "media spin" approach to the public and the press defines manipulative, adversarial relations.[63] Other military analysts see the military-media relationship in more cooperative and collaborative perspectives.

The US Army War College's Strategic Studies Institute recently conducted an analysis of the effects of the media's technological advances on policymaking, military planning, and strategic decisions.[64] The study noted, "There is no longer a question of whether the news media will cover military operations; journalists will likely precede the force into the area of operation, and they will transmit images of events as they happen, perhaps from both sides of any conflict." The author of this study, in contrast to the "media spin" approach, saw the need for (and the benefits of) a proactive, "well resourced and responsive" military infrastructure to work with the media and assist their news-gathering, without impairing military operations.[65] This study clearly reflects the most serious consequences of CNN wars, when media coverage of military operations directly influences higher levels of policy and decisionmaking:

Under the scrutiny of a very responsive, high technology world news media, given the volatile, unstable, and ambiguous environment in which armed forces can find themselves, the actions of field forces have a greater chance than ever before of affecting subsequent strategic decisions made at higher levels. The pressure on field commanders to "get it right the first time" is demonstrably greater than ever.[66]

Clearly, the military must help the political leadership by ensuring that the rationale and justification for military operations are completely consistent with policy objectives, and by helping policymakers explain to the public and press the connections between operations and policy.

To Win CNN Wars

Advice on CNN war has focused more on "coping" than on "winning" and tends to echo a warning by Winston Churchill: "Nothing is more dangerous in wartime than to live in the temperamental atmosphere of a Gallup Poll, always feeling one's pulse and taking one's temperature."[67] There is a growing chorus blaming bad US foreign policy on CNN images: when the images get to us emotionally (and through us, to our leaders), these critics argue, we make mistakes, intervening militarily where our vital national interests are not involved. Episodes like Somalia or the intervention in Lebanon, the chorus argues, occur because shocking images got under our skin and overruled rational national reasoning. "Foreign policy by CNN," one critic warns, "may be psychologically satisfying, but it is very dangerous. Our record of interventions provoked by guilt-inducing pictures is an unhappy one."[68] "The eye, fastened to CNN," writes another:

makes a valuable witness. But it has a tendency to stir people to bursts of indignation that flare briefly, spectacularly and ineffectually, like a fire splashed with a cup of gasoline. An advertent and sustained foreign policy uses a different part of the brain from the one engaged by horrifying images.[69]

Foreign policy success, these critics reason, occurs because our leaders make cold, dispassionate assessments of geopolitical national interests: "The Persian Gulf War was not provoked by pictures. . . . We were galvanized not by emotion but by cold calculation."[70] The solution these critics offer is to ignore the pictures and equate US vital interests with classic realpolitik realities: oil, military power balance, narrow economic and political self-interests. The "cold calculation" view seemingly rejects American causes based on law, justice, or humanitarianism. Historically, the critics' logic is wholly hindsightful. Sending Marines into Lebanon or Somalia, at the outset, rested on US influence and leadership, just as did sending the Marines into monsoon-ravaged Bangladesh (Operation Sea Angel), sending the Green Berets into Iraqi Kurdistan (Provide Comfort), or even sending forces to take back Kuwait. When body bags came back, however, some critics professed to see a lack of national interests, and feckless policies prompted by images.

The observation that focusing policy through the filter of the news sometimes courts disaster provides no fresh insight. Walter Lippmann, in his 1922 classic Public Opinion, wrote:

The press . . . is like the beam of a searchlight that moves restlessly about, bringing one episode and then another out of darkness into vision. Men cannot do the work of the world by this light alone. They cannot govern society by episodes, incidents, and eruptions. . . . News and truth are not the same. . . . The function of news is to signalize an event, the function of truth is to bring to light the hidden facts, to set them in relation with each other, and make a picture of reality on which men can act. When we expect [news] to supply . . . truth . . . we misunderstand the limited nature of news, the illimitable complexity of society; we overestimate our own endurance, public spirit, and all-round competence.[71]

Lippmann saw remedies in a social organization based on "analysis and record" (boring though it may be), decentralization of decisions, "abandonment of the theory of the omnicompetent," coordination among decisionmakers, and a "running audit" of situations to prevent governance by episode. He recognized that the resultant errors of setting policy on a news foundation, of acting "without a reliable picture of the world," could be offset only by "inventing, creating, and organizing a machinery of knowledge." A more contemporary critic believes the solution lies in "leadership and a strength of resolve that allows principle and conviction to ride over the often ill-formed media criticism and the snapshot reporting."[72]

If the critics of CNN-driven policy sometimes have trouble recollecting the sources of national interests, they are right about the potentially dangerous consequences of policy development and military operations in reaction to images and snapshot reporting, without analysis, planning, or readiness. Among the dilemmas of CNN war is this: the government machinery (e.g., the intelligence and policy staffs) suggested by Lippmann's advice tends to be bypassed and ignored; we should not be surprised if this machinery fails to help leaders fight and win CNN wars. One approach taken by the managers of that government machinery has been to become more like CNN. The Central Intelligence Agency technical staff, under Director Robert Gates, was working on "advanced delivery systems" to get to policymakers DIA products "that combine . . databased information, graphics, even video." Similarly, the Defense Intelligence Agency consulted with CNN on how to coordinate and integrate reports into coherent and interactive communications with their clients.[73]

What these CNN imitators must remember is that simply knowing something, and helping policymakers and commanders to become aware, is not enough. Leadership needs more than advice and information. Providing leaders "a reliable picture of the world" helps only if they are able to use that picture persuasively to communicate their vision of outcomes. The "government knowledge machinery" that supports the leadership must be ready to prepare both information and compelling communications as quickly, readily, and flexibly as CNN provides news video and analysis. Providing this level of support to leaders presents significant organizational, technical, and intellectual challenges. The biggest obstacle, however, is philosophical: the sentiment that the solution to the problems of CNN wars is to "turn out the lights"; to get the CNN spotlights pointed elsewhere, dimmed, switched off. Or, if you are a policymaker, to turn your back on them.

The "cold calculation" critics, who argue that US foreign policy is too motivated by CNN, crassly imply that shocking images are the only motivations for "do-good" policies. "True national interests," according to the realpolitik perspective, reflect unemotional, geopolitical realities. If these critics are right, US national interests may be very difficult to defend in future CNN wars: they would reflect a cold, calculated, negative image of US self-interest. As noted previously, the Bush Administration got it right when it emphasized "the quality of our ideas, values, and leadership" rather than our undoubtedly dominant military capabilities.[74] Future CNN wars, like the Persian Gulf War, will require US policymakers to see that the quality of our ideas and values is given proper weight in developing policy. Those wars will require military leaders to reflect the human ideas and values of our national interests in our operations. If our policies fail to reflect a human face, if the cold calculations of our leaders envision no compelling stories of human values, then in a world of CNN war the force of public support and the favor of public opinion for those policies will be questionable at best.[75] The human face of our policies becomes part of our arsenal, and the force of the stories of our ideas and values becomes the core of US power.[76]

When political leaders have sent the military into harm's way, it does not matter to those in the conflict if our policies are rooted in the programmed political intentions of a cold calculus of realpolitik, or if they are compelled by humane values in response to CNN images. Once the commitment is made and the soldiers go, the minicams will be there, and we must prepare the troops for the roll (and the role) of the CNN video. If policymakers and military leaders hold no vision of the human face of our commitments, if they tell no stories from the heart of the how and why of our military actions, then others will do it for them, and the results may not be to their liking.

There is, however, one lesson at this early phase of discovery about CNN war that policymakers and military commanders, and those who would advise and inform them, should learn. They must communicate the goals of policies and the objectives of military operations clearly and simply enough so that the widest of audiences can envision the ways and the means being used to reach those goals. This understanding needs to extend from the President down to the average citizen and the most junior soldier. The operational ways and means must be clear and simple--how the operation is happening--so individuals can understand how they personally are being affected. The policy goals and motives for the operation need to be equally clear and simple, but also compelling, so that citizens and allies alike will want to be a part of these operations, while our adversaries will feel powerless to escape the inevitable outcome if they oppose our goals. If policymakers and military leaders draw these pictures and convey this strategic understanding, they should have little fear of video on the battlefields of future CNN wars. The operations, tactics, and images of future CNN wars will follow from these visions. Soldiers, civilians, even enemies, will know why and how we do what we must. We can let them tell the story. And that is how to win CNN wars.


NOTES

1. Recounted in Thomas J. McNulty, "Television's Impact on Executive Decisionmaking and Diplomacy," The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 17 (Winter 1993), 81-82.

2. "CNN pushed the boundaries of world news: no longer did the network merely report events, but through its immediate reportage, CNN actually shaped the events and became part of them." Lewis Friedland, Covering the World: International Television News Services (New York: Twentieth Century Fund Press, 1992), p. 2. CNN became the news source of choice among national elites; Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak told CNN interviewer Bernard Shaw: "I waited all the time, watching CNN. For five, six hours I didn't move," an apparent case of what doctors came to label "the CNN effect": interminable watching of the war; Bernard Shaw CNN interview, 10 January 1991, cited in Thomas B. Allen, F. Clifton Berry, and Norman Polmar, CNN: War in the Gulf (Atlanta: Turner Publishing, 1991).

3. McNulty, pp. 78, 82.

4. Michael J. Mazarr, Jeffrey Shaffer, and Benjamin Ederington use the term "CNN war" in The Military Technical Revolution: A Structural Framework (Washington: Center for Strategic and International Studies, March 1993), p. 11, but the term had popular usage prior to this.

5. Marconi patented wireless telegraphy in 1897; voice wireless was available in 1907; commercial radio broadcasting began in 1920. Melvin L. DeFleur and Sandra J. Ball-Rokeach, Theories of Mass Communication (New York: Longman, 1989), ch. 4.

6. Television's role in changing weaponry has unfolded much like radio-based weaponry. The lags in militarization parallel the lags in commercialization and market saturation of both radio and TV technologies. By 1935 nearly every US household had a radio; by 1985 nearly every US household had a color TV. See DeFleur and Ball-Rokeach, also Howard A Frederick, Global Communication & International Relations (Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth, 1993), ch. 3. Today's military, however, has nothing to match the technology of CNN, which integrates mobile video, minicams, cellular communications, "fly-away" satellite datalinks, and network control systems to coordinate live video of events, expert analysis, and access to political and military leadership, delivered worldwide.

7. Bush quote in Friedland, pp. 7-8. Marlin Fitzwater's description of the interplay between Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein's proposals for possible settlement of the Gulf War crisis and US President Bush's swift rejection two hours after Saddam's broadcast is from McNulty, p. 71. Similar dynamics have been reported during the Clinton presidency. See Eleanor Clift and Bob Cohn, "Seven Days," Newsweek, 12 July 1993, p. 18. "Particularly during crises," McNulty wrote (pp. 67, 71), "television images are deeply imprinted on White House decision-making; they permeate discussions from the earliest senior staff meeting and the president's intelligence briefing an hour later to those meetings conducted at the end of the day in the Oval Office or over drinks upstairs in the official residence. . . . The normal information flow into the Oval Office was vastly altered by live video images."

8. Theodore Postol, "Lessons of the Gulf War: Experience with Patriot," International Security, 16 (Winter 1991-92), 119.

9. Quoted in David S. Broder, "Looking Ahead in '92," Boston Globe (6 April 1994), p. 15.

10. Carnes Lord, security advisor of former Vice President Dan Quayle, went on: "The more widespread information is about things like this, the more congressmen you have becoming secretaries of state." Quoted in McNulty, pp. 72, 81.

11. Quoted in Friedland, p. 7. Throughout the buildup to the Gulf War President Bush, Saddam Hussein, UN leaders, Soviet intermediaries, and other world leaders used CNN as what Friedland called a "diplomatic seismograph and party line," to signal intent and address messages to one another, bypassing formal diplomatic channels.

12. Quoted in Dallas Morning News, 18 July 1993, p. 1j. Shanto Iyengar and Donald R. Kinder, in News That Matters, wrote that TV news offers simplified visions of events "priming certain aspects of national life while ignoring others," and thereby setting "the terms by which political judgments are rendered and political choices made" (Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 1987), p. 4.

13. Former Secretary of State George Shultz observed that satellite TV news "puts everybody on real time, because everyone is seeing the same thing." Quoted in McNulty, p. 74.

14. Former FCC Chairman Newton Minnow, quoted in McNulty, p. 82. Walter B. Wriston, in The Twilight of Sovereignty (New York: Scribner's Sons, 1992), argues that modern communications greatly reduce the traditional control and sovereignty of nation-states.

15. The news media, Michael Crichton wrote, "have treated information the way John D. Rockefeller treated oil--as a commodity, in which the distribution network, rather than product quality, is of primary importance." Michael Crichton, "The Mediasaurus," Wired (September-October 1993).

16. See, for example, Richard M. Perloff, The Dynamics of Persuasion (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1993); or Anthony R. Pratkanis and Eliot Aronson, Age of Propaganda: The Everyday Use and Abuse of Persuasion (New York: W. H. Freeman, 1992).

17. See, for example, Robert B. Cialdini, Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (New York: Quill William Morrow, 1993).

18. In experiments during World War II a two-sided message (to continue the war against Japan) produced greater attitude change than a one-sided message, especially among those who originally opposed continuing the war. The one-sided message (to continue the war) brought about greater attitude change among those who initially supported that view. Better educated soldiers were more favorably affected by two-sided arguments, while poorly educated soldiers were more responsive to one-sided appeals. See Carl I. Hovland, A. A. Lumsdaine, and F. D. Sheffield, Experiments on Mass Communication (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1949), p. 105; Pratkanis and Aronson, p. 165; Shelley E. Taylor and Suzanne C. Thompson, "Stalking the Elusive `Vividness' Effect," Psychological Review, 89 (No. 2, 1982), 155-81; Perloff, pp. 139, 171.

19. Imagery and emotion figured prominently in President Clinton's 1992 speech accepting the Democratic nomination. Presidential candidate Bill Clinton reflected his deepest emotion when he derided his opponent, George Bush, for "the vision thing." That is, Clinton portrayed his opponent's lack of a vision where the country was going as his greatest flaw. Clinton told the delegates that the thing about Bush that really made him mad was this lack of a defining and guiding image for the country's future, a vision Clinton proposed to provide from the White House.

20. "From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the continent," Churchill penned in the early morning hours as his train approached Westminster College in Missouri. During World War II Churchill's first speech as Prime Minister in the House of Commons began with emotional imagery: "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat." On the Westminster speech and the rhetoric of Sir Winston Churchill, see James C. Humes, The Sir Winston Method: The Five Secrets of Speaking the Language of Leadership (New York: William Morrow, 1991), pp. 61-63.

21. Psychologically extemporaneous remarks seem to audiences more sincere and genuine than prepared remarks since they appear to be more characteristic of the individual's beliefs and emotions than of the social demands of the speech setting. See Edward E. Jones and Daniel McGillis, "Correspondent Inferences and the Attribution Cube," in New Directions in Attribution Research, Volume 1, ed. John H. Harvey, William J. Ickes, and Robert F. Kidd (Hillsdale, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1976), pp. 389-420.

22. Coretta S. King, My Life with Martin Luther King, Jr. (New York: Holt, Rhinehart, & Winston, 1969), p. 238.

23. "They [moving pictures] come, we imagine, directly to us without human meddling, and they are the most effortless food for the mind conceivable. . . . On the screen the whole process of observing, describing, reporting, and then imagining, has been accomplished for you." Walter Lippmann, Public Opinion (New York: Free Press, 1965, originally published 1922), p. 61.

24. Stephen Baker, Visual Persuasion (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1961).

25. Quoted in Todd Gitlin, "TV & American Culture: Flat and Happy," The Wilson Quarterly, 17 (Autumn 1993), 55.

26. The public's ideal construct of journalism equates news, objectivity, credibility, and reality. Social construction theory and media dependency theory address the question "Under what circumstances do we believe the political images we see on TV are real?" Social construction of reality theory is associated with Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality (New York: Doubleday, 1966), and Erving Goffman, Frame Analysis: An Essay on the Organization of Experience (New York: Harper and Row, 1974). Media dependency theory is associated with Hanna Adoni and Sherrill Mane, "Media and the Social Construction of Reality: Toward an Integration of Theory and Research," Communications Research, 11 (1984), 323-40; and Dan Nimmo and James E. Combs, Mediated Political Realities (New York: Longman, 1990).

27. These subframes for news were defined by Philo C. Wasburn, Broadcasting Propaganda: International Radio Broadcasting and the Construction of Political Reality (Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1992).

28. Typically the actor frame ignores the more abstract, less telegenic processes, forces, power relations, and economic factors that underlie events. We tend to attribute motives and causality to whatever actors we focus on. Darren Newtson, "Foundations of Attribution: The Perception of Ongoing Behavior," in Harvey, Ickes, and Kidd, pp. 242-43.

29. Detractors from the dramatic evolution of the image story line are avoided in news production: the technical details; histories and legacies; interconnections with other events and stories; and any truly unknown factor, uncertainties, or complexities are eliminated to maintain a "clean story line."

30. Soldiers' war has been described as interminable periods of "sheer boredom punctuated by moments of stark terror." The soldier frame, however, creates too much media "dead air time;" so media images of war cut to the chase and highlight the action. Media war is motion- and action-filled; things must be happening to be seen. "Soldiers' war" quote attributed to Harry G. Summers, Jr., On Strategy, in Jay M. Shafritz, Words on War: Military Quotations from Ancient Times to the Present (New York: Prentice Hall, 1990), p. 458.

31. There may be a basic psychological tendency to focus on fewer relevant cues with greater intensity as emotional arousal increases, rather than looking for finer levels of analysis. Newtson, p. 234.

32. Accepting the official sources frame limits alternative perspectives and polarizes viewpoints as either pro or con; whereas other, different, and distinct viewpoints create distracting and irrelevant images and are excluded from the frame.

33. Ted Koppel, ABC Nightline anchorman, quoted in Erika Fitzpatrick, "Media, Policy: Koppel Checks Links," Boston Globe, 27 April 1994, p. 8.

34. Both quotes in Michael Kramer, "The Political Interest: It's All Foreign to Clinton," Time, 18 October 1993, p. 75.

35. Chuck de Caro, "Sats, Lies, and Video-Rape: The Soft War Handbook" (Washington: Aerobureau Corporation, 1993), p. 24.

36. See Ambassador Robert B. Oakley's account, "What We Learned in Somalia," The Washington Post, 20 March 1994, p. C7, and Rick Atkinson's series on the Ranger and Delta Force operations published in The Washington Post in February 1994.

37. Months after the events in October the print media rediscovered the Mogadishu story and recast it. The revisionist versions became a tale of "amazing valor" by the American Rangers. See, for example, Kevin Fedarko, "Amid Disaster, Amazing Valor," Time, 28 February 1994, p. 46.

38. "The consensus that drove Congress and the administration to support the deployment of American forces into [Somalia] . . . evaporated when the body of a single American soldier was dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. That image, broadcast and rebroadcast by all the media, produced a wave of revulsion across America." James Adams, "The Role of the Media," Conference on Ethnic Conflict and Regional Instability (Cambridge, Mass.: Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, 17-18 November 1993), p. 4.

39. Commentators have suggested that "image wars" have become commonplace in politics. For example, besides de Caro and McNulty, see Bernard Cohen, The Press and Foreign Policy (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton Univ. Press, 1963); William Hachten, "The Triumph of Western News Communication," The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 17 (Winter 1993); Patrick O'Heffernan, Mass Media and American Foreign Policy: Insider Perspectives on Global Journalism and the Foreign Policy Process (Norwood, N.J.: Ablex, 1991); and Michael J. O'Neill, The Roar of the Crowd: How Television and People Power are Changing the World (New York: Random House, 1994).

40. "The key to finding meaning in things," Arthur Asa Berger's introduction to semiotics suggests, "is to realize that we live in a world that is full of signs--a sign being something that stands for or represents something else." Arthur Asa Berger, Signs in Contemporary Culture (Salem, Wisc.: Sheffield, 1989), p. viii.

41. Related to the author by Professor Charles McClintock, at the time a teen-aged participant-observer of World War II map-tracking and fireside chats.

42. See James H. Doolittle, I Could Never Be So Lucky Again (New York: Bantam Books, 1991). The psychological utility of dramatic special operations in capturing public attention and support, above and beyond any military significance, was fully appreciated and exploited by both Roosevelt and Churchill. The principle they followed was defined by de Tocqueville: "No kind of greatness is more pleasing to the imagination of a democratic people than military greatness which is brilliant and sudden, won without hard work, by risking nothing but one's life." Democracy in America (New York: Anchor Books, 1969), p. 657, quoted in Eliot A. Cohen, Commandos and Politicians: Elite Military Units in Modern Democracies (Cambridge, Mass.: Center for International Affairs, Harvard Univ., 1978), p. 50.

43. Roosevelt frequently conversed with his friend Jack Warner of Warner Brothers about Hollywood's treatment of war themes. Casablanca opened in Hollywood on Thanksgiving Day, only 18 days after the Allied landings in Casablanca. President Roosevelt saw the film on New Year's Eve, 31 December 1942. Soon after, Roosevelt severed relations with Vichy France. In January 1943, when the film was generally released, Roosevelt, linking fantasy to reality, traveled secretly to Casablanca to confer with Churchill and the new leader of the Free French, De Gaulle. The political fantasy of Casablanca," write Nimmo and Combs, "is one of individual commitments that add up to a national commitment against fascism. America must fight, however reluctantly. . . . Casablanca permitted wartime audiences to solidify their own commitment by identification with the character of Rick." See the analysis of the interaction of the film Casablanca and wartime public opinion in Nimmo and Combs, pp. 116-18. On the social context of Casablanca, see Clifford McCarty, Bogey: The Films of Humphrey Bogart (New York: Bonanza Books, 1965), and Aljean Harmetz, Round Up the Usual Suspects: The Making of Casablanca--Bogart, Bergman, and World War II (New York: Hyperion, 1992).

44. CNN and the networks went live to their reporters in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, depicting a bedlam of news persons, thinking they were being gassed, trying to don gas masks, insert ear pieces, and speak into their microphones at the same time, while images gyrated wildly as camera persons attempted the same juggling feats.

45. On the night of the first Scud attacks on Israel, Deputy Secretary of State Lawrence Eagleberger "had just returned from a weekend mission to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, where the Israelis--reluctant to abandon their military self-sufficiency--had rejected an American offer of Patriot missiles. `If they've been hit with chemicals, Katie bar the door because they're going to do something,' Eagleberger predicted. `I know these people. They're going to retaliate. If it's nerve gas, we'll never stop them.'" Related in Rick Atkinson, Crusade: The Untold Story of the Persian Gulf War (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1993), p. 82.

46. Allen, Berry, and Polmar, p. 158.

47. NBC correspondent Arthur Kent (soon to become celebrated as "the Scud Stud") broadcasting from Dhahran rooftops, gas mask in hand, shouted his description of the mid-air engagement over the air raid sirens. There were striking parallels between the broadcasts of NBC's Kent and CNN's Charles Jaco in the coverage of the Scud-Patriot duels and Edward R. Morrow's graphic rooftop radio reporting of the fires and bombings during Hitler's Blitz of London. Both episodes set new standards for heroic war broadcasting, both used the advantages of the media to the fullest, both mobilized deeply emotional worldwide sympathy and support for stout-hearted and brave civilian defenders, facing up to a tyrant's terror attacks, and both provided extraordinarily captivating drama.

48. Rather than destroying the coalition against him by his attacks on Israel, Saddam consolidated the coalition by his ineffectual but no less insulting attacks on Saudi Arabia. Allen, Berry, and Polmar, p. 158.

49. When MIT Professor Theodore Postol, a critic of the Patriot's technical performance, assessed the Patriot's performance in the Persian Gulf conflict, he overlooked the missile's role in CNN war. "Most importantly, the serendipitous political and psychological contributions of Patriot in the specific circumstances of the Gulf War do not appear to offer a basis for further national security planning," Postol wrote in "Lessons of the Gulf War: Experience with Patriot," p. 119. The dominating strategic perception was of Patriots defeating Scuds, vividly and dramatically. This perception shaped and determined the strategic reality of Saddam's Scud offensive, regardless of the technical realities in the skies. The debate literature includes Richard Perle, "Savior from the Saddams," Jerusalem Post, 31 January 1994; Stephen Budiansky, "Playing Patriot Games," U.S. News & World Report, 22 November 1993; Tim Weiner, "Patriot Missile's Success a Myth, Israeli Aides Say," The New York Times, 21 November 1993; and Reuven Pedatzur and Theodore Postol, "The Patriot is No Success Story," Defense News, 2 December 1993. Three articles: Theodore Postol, "Lessons of the Gulf War: Experience with Patriot;" Robert M. Stein, "Response to Postol: Patriot Experience in the Gulf War," and "Postol Replies," International Security, 17 (Summer 1992) carry the technical debates.

50. See Ernest G. Bormann, The Force of Fantasy: Restoring the American Dream (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1985). World culture symbols are often easily leveraged for political effect. See also Frank J. Stech, "Upheaval in Europe: PSYOP Communications Lessons Learned," Special Warfare, 5 (October 1992), for an assessment of the role of symbolic communications in the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

51. Alfred Mahan considered communications as dominating war, "the most important single element in strategy, political or military." For Mahan, the ability to insure one's own communications and to interrupt an adversary's is the root of national power. Mahan was thinking primarily about sea lines of communications, but he meant not just trade but communication of information and knowledge as well. Trevor Royle, A Dictionary of Quotations (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1989), p. 123.

52. The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington: GPO, August 1991), p. 14.

53. The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington: GPO, January 1993), p. 5.

54. Les Aspin, Annual Report to the President and Congress (Washington: Department of Defense, January 1994), p. 9.

55. Mazarr, Shaffer, and Ederington, p. 11. Emphasis added.

56. The military's view of the press as either enemy or public relations organ was recently expressed by Judson J. Conner: "The media represent a frustrating mixed bag of opportunity and grief. Ever ready to criticize, condemn, abuse, and send careers spiraling downward, these same organs of information can applaud, congratulate, sing praises, and carry careers onward and upward." Meeting the Press: A Media Survival Guide for Defense Managers (Washington: National Defense Univ. Press, 1993).

57. The Air Command and Staff College Air Campaign Course Research Project has produced several recent studies on "information dominance" (other slogans include "soft war," "soft kill," and "information warfare"). None of these studies mentions CNN war, reflects an appreciation of the role of real-time media coverage of military events, or assesses the effects of televised news images on military and political decisionmaking. They do, however, reflect an appreciation of the central role of information flows among military and policy users on the planning and conduct of military operations and the need to influence the flow of information in peacetime and to dominate it in war. See Gregory A. Biscone, James R. Hawkins, and Anthony M. Mauer, "Campaigning for Information Dominance;" Paul DiJulio, Bernie Kring, K. C. Schow, and Mark Williams, "Communications-Computer Systems: Critical Centers of Gravity;" and Alan L. Smith, "Infopower: Information Engineering Methodologies, Infowar, and Infopeace" (Maxwell Air Force Base: Air Command and Staff College, 1993); also see Mazarr, Shaffer, and Ederington, p. 27.

58. William Hatchen, "The Triumph of Western News Communication," The Fletcher Forum of World Affairs, 17 (Winter 1993), 32.

59. John Fialka, quoted in Trevor Thrall, "The Gulf in Reporting the Gulf War," MIT-DACS Breakthroughs (Spring 1992), pp. 10-11. The Marines even commercially marketed a CD-ROM disk of their performance in the Gulf War, with photos, reports, briefings, and other miscellany. The disk is "bundled" in many personal computer CD-ROM add-on kits.

60. Thrall. Scott Simon of National Public Radio reported (in an interview on NPR's Talk of the Nation, October 1993) that several members of the press were fully briefed before the ground offensive that the Marine amphibious landing was an allied deception. The Marines briefed the press to prevent them from inadvertently blowing the story by naively covering it. The witting members of the press, sworn to secrecy, maintained the security of the deception, and supported it with continued press coverage of the practice Marine landings.

61. Thrall, p. 11, quoting Marine Colonel John Shortwell.

62. Marc D. Felman, The Military/Media Clash and the New Principle of War: Media Spin (Maxwell Air Force Base, Ala.: Air Univ. Press, June 1993).

63. Judson J. Connor rightly observes that manipulating the press, is "a crime which ranks, in the eyes of the media, right up there with murder and mayhem." Meeting the Press: A Media Survival Guide for the Defense Manager, p. xii. Politicians and military leaders have long understood that public support is essential for successful military operations, certainly since the rise of mass armies in Napoleon's day and the beginning of industrial warfare in the time of Lincoln and Grant. Public support is largely a strategic, not a tactical or operational responsibility. Commanders must conduct tactics and operations consistent with strategy. Considering the evening news "media spin" in campaign planning does not offer the most constructive basis for planning operations in the next CNN war, and puts strategic goals in the place of tactical and operational objectives.

64. See Colonel John Mountcastle, Director, Strategic Studies Institute, foreword to Charles W. Ricks, The Military-News Media Relationship: Thinking Forward (Carlisle Barracks, Pa.: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, 1 December 1993), p. iii.

65. Ricks, p. vi. One hopes that this proposed military infrastructure will be well-schooled in the guidelines for creating compelling and persuasive visual images, in the requirements for framing credible news stories, and in the semiotic uses of signs and symbols--i.e., that they practice tactics and operational arts developed explicitly for CNN war-fighting needs.

66. Ricks, p. iii.

67. Speech in the House of Commons, 30 September 1941, in Shafritz, p. 338.

68. Charles Krauthammer, "Intervention Lite: Foreign Policy by CNN," The Washington Post, 18 February 1994, p. 25; see also Lance Morrow, "In Feeding Somalia and Backing Yeltsin, America Discovers the Limits of Idealism," Time, 18 October 1993, pp. 37ff. James Adams of The Sunday Times (London) lamented "with [a public] attention span so short and a world view so limited, it is difficult to conceive how consistent policy for crisis management can be developed by the world's leading democracies." Adams, p. 9.

69. Morrow, pp. 37ff.

70. Krauthammer's assessment of the origins of Persian Gulf War totally discounts the role of such images as the smuggled home videos of Iraqi tanks rolling through the streets of Kuwait City, Iraqi firing squads executing "looters" in the streets, a sanctimonious Saddam Hussein asking a terrified five-year old British hostage, Stuart Lockwood, "Are you getting your milk, Stuart, and corn flakes, too?" and related incidents. With all that has been written of the role of CNN before, during, and after the Persian Gulf War, one would think anyone who watched CNN might perceive the importance of pictures in leading the United States to that conflict.

71. Lippmann, Public Opinion, pp. 226-29.

72. Adams, p. 9.

73. McNulty, p. 73.

74. The White House, National Security Strategy of the United States (Washington: GPO, January 1993), p. 5.

75. Czech President Vaclav Havel's address to the US Congress in 1990 opened with this observation: "The human face of the world is changing so rapidly that none of the familiar political speedometers are adequate. We playwrights, who have to cram a whole human life or an entire historical era into a two-hour play, can scarcely understand this rapidity ourselves. And if it gives us trouble, think of the trouble it must give to political scientists who spend their whole life studying the realm of the probable and have even less experience with the realm of the improbable than the playwrights."

76. The late Joseph Campbell, professor of mythology at Sarah Lawrence, discussed the idea of "human face" and the compelling images in the Star Wars films of the "light side" and the "dark side" as symbols for good and evil. Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers, The Power of Myth (New York: Doubleday, 1988), p. 144.


Lieutenant Colonel Frank J. Stech, USAR, was a 1994 US Army War College Research Fellow at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. His most recent military assignments have been in Psychological Operations: as Commander 305th PSYOP Company, Executive Officer 7th PSYOP Battalion, and as Intelligence Officer and Operations Officer 5th PSYOP Group. In his civilian career, Dr. Stech is a Lead Scientist with the MITRE Corporation in Washington, D.C. The original version of this article was co-winner of the 1994 CJCS Strategy Essay competition. It will appear in Essays on Strategy XII, to be published this fall by National Defense University Press.


Reviewed 9 May 1997. Please send comments or corrections to usarmy.carlisle.awc.mbx.parameters@mail.mil.