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Persian Gulf War press pool worked well in some ways

By Namrata Savoor
freedomforum.org

07.16.01

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ARLINGTON, Va. — The Persian Gulf War was one of the best-covered and worst-covered wars in history, said Frank Aukofer, former bureau chief of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, at an Inside Media program at the Newseum on July 7.

At first, members of the Pentagon's press pool had unlimited access to the war zone, Aukofer said.

For example, he said, "we basically had the story to ourselves for about three weeks" during Operation Desert Shield, which began in August 1990 as the preparatory phase preceding the war against Iraq dubbed Operation Desert Storm. Pool reporters in the early phase were free to move with the troops, ride in helicopters and watch battle preparations, he said.

"Where it got to be a bad situation was the following January when the air war started," he said.

The Joint Information Bureau, which assigned different actions and engagements to the press pools, denied reporters access to some areas of the war zone on military orders, Aukofer said.

"For historic purposes, for truth-telling purposes, there were no independent eyes and ears" to document all the events of the war. The only witnesses were the military officials directly involved in any particular action, he said.

"If the only people who tell you what happened are the people with an interest in the situation, you're not likely to get an objective or an unbiased account," Aukofer said.

Between August 1990 and January 1991 only the "combat pools" — about 23 groups of reporters — were allowed access to the units on the field, he said.

"The problem was that if you were not in one of those pools prior to the start of the war, you couldn't cover anything. You basically had to use what the people in the pools did," he said.

The military used the pool system to control access. "Access to a reporter is everything. You can't report on something unless you're there," he said.

Aukofer also talked about the state of the media-military relationship. "It's a constant education process on both sides," he said, that enables reporters and soldiers to understand each other's role during conflicts.

But this often-antagonistic relationship has become more amiable over the years, Aukofer said. During the recent conflicts in Kosovo and Bosnia, for example, a practice known as "embedding" — in which reporters live with and move around with the troops — has gained acceptance, Aukofer said.

"It develops a terrific relation of trust between the reporters and the military people," he said.

Ultimately, the news media and the military have a "difference in mission" that sets them apart, Aukofer said: "One wants to win a battle (and) reporters want to tell the story."

Related

War Stories events coverage
Coverage of discussions relating to Newseum's War Stories exhibit.  07.31.01

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