The Next War: Live?

By Barrie Dunsmore

A paper by Barrie Dunsmore, fall 1995 fellow, explores the questions that arise from the possibility of live television coverage from the battlefield. What are its likely military consequences? Does it actually threaten operational security? Could it affect or change the outcome of a battle or even the war? What are its political consequences? What would be the impact of the scenes of carnage on the American people, especially in terms of their support for a given foreign policy or a given war? Could a mistake in a live broadcast, which cost American lives, cause such a public backlash that people might be willing to sacrifice some democratic freedoms in order to curb the networks? With so much at risk, should the U.S. military and the four major American networks, negotiate guidelines that would set conditions for live coverage? What might those guidelines be? This paper is an attempt to answer these questions by addressing them to the key people who have made the coverage decisions in past wars and will decide what we see of wars of the future. Generals such as Colin Powell, John Shalikashvili and Norman Schwarzkopf talk at length of their concerns about live coverage. Network anchors Tom Brokaw, Peter Jennings, Ted Koppel, Dan Rather and Bernard Shaw revealed their feelings about its possible consequences. Dunsmore also interviews battlefield commanders, high-level government officials and senior network news executives.

Download the paper (PDF).