Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, weighing in on the Pentagon Papers case that
came before the Court in 1969, wrote, “Paramount among the responsibilities of a free
press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and
sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell”1.
Justice Black is correct that the press assumes heightened responsibility in the run up to
wars and while they are being executed. Decisions about whether to go to war, how to
conduct it, and how to end it are some of the most important choices that citizens in a
democracy must make, and they require an active media to communicate the necessary
To make a prudent decision, the American public must have an accurate
understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of a war. During the Vietnam War, the
Pentagon Papers revealed crucial information to the public about the strategic failures of
the United States military. The press’ decision to publish this material was in large part
responsible for the increase in anti-war fervor that helped bring the war to an end.
In the latter years of the 2000s, America’s focus on the Iraq War, begun in 2003,
seemed to fade. With the War in Afghanistan competing for headlines along with a
massive recession caused by a near-collapse of the world’s banking system, it seemed at
times that America had forgotten about the War in Iraq.
Collecting data from the start of 2008 to the end of the Iraq War in August of
2010, this study examines the extent to which two well-known television news programs
continued to report on the ongoing war. Specifically, this study seeks to fill in gaps in
literature on war coverage by American media by analyzing what images are aired during
stories about violence, which have the most potential to impact viewers. In addition, this
study will analyze the extent to which each station prioritizes war stories within its
broadcast and the frequency with which the two stations air stories depicting war
When America goes to war, the media is the only window through which the
public can objectively determine the success of the mission. In the unconventional and
loosely defined War in Iraq, the media’s duty to communicate news to the public is all
the more important. This study will assess, in part, whether television media provided
the necessary reality-based coverage.