Journalism, Peace, and War [CRN 29408]

Discipline: Journalism and Media Communication
Instructor: journalism-peace-war
Credits: 3
Day: B
Start: 1530
End: 1650
Field Work: Day 2 | March 1, 2018 | India
Prerequisites: None Download Syllabus

This class will explore how various media have traditionally covered military conflicts—internationally and domestically—and allegedly practiced “objectivity” by quoting “both sides.” To a great extent, war coverage was treated like a spectacle, such as a major sporting event complete with deference to “the home team.”  Who’s winning, who’s losing, who has more casualties, which side occupies what territory In the 1970’s, television brought the Vietnam War “into our living rooms.” Broadcast and print media offered a sanitized version of the war and, as was the custom established in the Korean Conflict and World War II, banned graphic images, and violence that might shrink audiences. In daily journalistic practice: “If it bleeds, it leads.” As news became more and more depressing, therapists began advising clients to avoid watching or reading the evening news to improve sleep, and the public came to widely resent and distrust “the media.”  War coverage rarely aimed for lasting peace. When hostilities ceased, reporters moved on to the next hot spot.

To bolster patriotism, government leaders attempted to “balance” front-line reporting with military releases that sanitized language (civilian deaths became “collateral damage”) and “body counts” of how many soldiers died on each side, as if the only casualties a country should mourn were their own.  New York Times reporter Homer Bigart protested that “war correspondents should never be cheerleaders” for any side, and objected when NYT editors published his front-line reporting along with contradictory reports from the Department of Defense. (Sometimes labeled as DOD press releases, sometimes not.)  By the 1990s, war coverage was so commonplace, its metaphors penetrated every social issue:  the war on drugs, the war on poverty, the war on obesity, implying the poor, the addicted, the overweight were “the enemy.” The metaphor worked its way into national presidential politics. “It’s a war, Larry! (James Carville on Larry King Show during 1992 campaign).

Peace journalism is now emerging to “bring an outside source of wisdom to a complex situation,” journalist Robert Koehler wrote.  “Its assumption is not that the victory of one side will bring peace, but that all sides must be heard and that the solution involves transformation: the creation of a reality that meets all needs and grievances.”  The paradigm of peace journalism changes “If it bleeds, it leads” to a more satisfying practice: “If it reveals, it heals.”  Before societies can truly progress beyond war, global citizens need more information to “see” what we’re unaccustomed to knowing.  The current practice of “objectivity” by “quoting both sides” assumes there are only two.  But in complex, long-term conflicts, there are far more than two, hardly equal sides.  The media have been inefficient in resolving problems so far—there is as much or more war, poverty, drug usage and unhealthy diets as ever. If daily journalism could evolve and aim to enlighten audiences, it might shed some resentments from readers and viewers.

Field Work

Country: India
Day: 2
Date: March 1, 2018

This field class is under development. Details to be announced on board. Learning Objectives:

    1. To learn the history of the Partician War, in which more than a million people were “killed by hate.” (Muslim and Hindu)
    2. To learn why India’s nuclear program was once a source of national pride, and why civilian critics were regarded as treasonous. (Many parallels with North Korean attitudes today.)
    3. To learn how humor became the most successful way to critique social issues in serialized television programs.