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Journalist Fellows' Papers

The Media and the Military in Vietnam and Afghanistan

Reuters Institute Fellow's Paper

America's two longest wars - in Vietnam and in Afghanistan - yielded an often contentious relationship between journalists and military commanders.

Through the prism of two case studies, this research by Laura King, a long-time war correspondent for the Los Angeles Times, examines some of the underlying causes of media-military antagonism, from the emergence of modern-day combat reporting to the pernicious effects of the 'embed' system.In her essay entitled, ‘The Media and the Military in Vietnam and Afghanistan’, Laura also looks at ways in which the ghosts of Vietnam influenced news coverage in Afghanistan. She also carried out content analysis of stories by several major U.S. media outlets which suggested that myth-making surrounding watershed events in Vietnam had powerful repercussions a full generation later.

Amongst her conclusions, Laura poses the question of what can help war correspondents perceive complicated wartime events more clearly.  She believes that “the most important step would be diminished dependence on the military. ‘Unilateral’ coverage – that which is not tied to reporters travelling with military units – is difficult, dangerous and expensive. ‘Embeds’ – occasionally and judiciously undertaken – will probably remain a necessary but limited part of the reporting mix. But unless the preponderance of news coverage arises from sustained and meaningful contacts with the local population, yielding at least a modicum of cultural understanding, we are always going to get the story wrong.”

As with all Fellows’ research papers, any opinions expressed are those of the author and not of the Institute.

Image: REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic