War Coverage in the American Media

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2004

21 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)



1 Introduction

2 History of the U.S. media

3 History of American War Coverage

4 The Vietnam War Coverage

5 The Second Gulf War Coverage

6 The Third Gulf War Coverage

7 Summary

8 Sources

1 Introduction

The war coverage in the American media is a theme that shows the reality of the American democracy. Though the media in the U.S. is rarely limited by law it was often used for special purposes. The latest example is the war with Iraq where all kinds of media were employed to create a pro-war opinion within the population of the USA. I will lead further into that in chapter 6.

The history of the American media makes up the beginning of this paper (chapter 2, page 4) and the history of the American war coverage (chapter 3, page 8). In my opinion the knowledge about these things is important to understand how the American media act and work today.

A summary of all chapters and some of my personal conclusions can be found in chapter 7 from page 19.

Examples for the coverage of American led wars are the Vietnam War (chapter 4, page 10), the second Gulf War (chapter 5, page 12), and the third Gulf War (chapter 6, page 14).

There were various sources for this paper. First of all I want to mention “The American Age” by Walter LaFeber[1]. Furthermore the “Länderbericht USA”[2], the “stern”, “The Media in American Politics” by Paletz[3], and several articles from the seminar reader which will be listed in the list of sources (page 21). Additionally I used the “Microsoft Encarta 96”[4] which was a very useful starting place for me.

2 History of the U.S. media

The history of media in the USA started quite early. The first regularly published American newspaper was the “Boston News-Letter”. John Campbell established it in 1704. The paper contented financial and foreign news, and recorded births, deaths, as well as social events. Censor was the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

In 1721James Franklin founded the „New England Courant“ in Boston. His younger brother Benjamin Franklin who was included in the staff of this paper went to Philadelphia in 1723 where he published the “Pennsylvania Gazette” and the “General Magazine”.

In 1725 the first New York newspaper was founded, the “Gazette”. Several others followed, including “New York Weekly Journal” distributed by John Peter Zenger. He was engaged in the first trial on freedom of press when he put out critical articles about the British colonial governor of New York. Zenger was jailed and set on trial but found not guilty. His case marked an important precedent for the tradition of free press.

In 1750 there were 12 newspapers in the colonies for about 1 million people living there. By 1775 the population had increased to 2.5 million and the number of papers up to 48. At those times, they were brought out weekly, contained four pages, and had a circulation of about 400 copies. It were more “essay papers” than newspapers.

The British Stamp Act of 1765 imposed a high tax on paper. American publishers got together and refused to pay these tax. The Act was taken back but it left the first signs for today’s media landscape with big corporations.

In 1783, the earliest daily newspaper began publication, the “Pennsylvania Evening Post” and “Daily Advertiser”. Within the first three decades of the 19th century, the number of newspapers increased. The Industrial Revolution made it possible to produce papers very cheaply. That is, where the name “penny press” comes from. Papers could be sold for one or two pennies per copy.

Until the 1830s newspapers contained more and more business and political news what made them most interesting for the privileged class. In 1833 this was changed by Benjamin Henry Day who then published the first edition of the “New York Sun”. Thus the papers were not only cheap in price but also “cheap” in information. The American Yellow press for a mass readership was born. It dominated the U.S. journalism throughout the rest of the century. “New York Sun” soon turned out to be a success and was followed by others like “New York Herald”, “New York Tribune” or “New York Times”. The penny press spread all across the country when the nation expanded westward. Circulation rapidly rose into ten thousands of copies per day.

As newspapers began to compete more and more with each other to enlarge circulation in order to obtain more advertising, the publishers Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst developed a different type of journalism. They, Pulitzer in the “New York World” and Hearst in the “San Francisco Examiner” and “New York Morning Journal”, transformed newspapers with sensational and scandalous news coverage, the use of drawings, and the inclusion of more features such as the comic strips.

The post-war period after World War II was complicated for newspapers. Many of them lost their advertisers to radio or television; rising costs for equipment, labor, and material made it more difficult to produce papers cheaply with big profits.

After in 1848 the first news agency was founded by six New York newspapers to share the cost of bringing news to New York by telegraph from Washington and Boston, three more were built up after World War II. “United Press”, “International Press” and “Universal News” were consolidated into “United Press International” (UPI) in 1958.

Today many newspapers issue on-line versions. Thus articles are available for everybody with Internet access everywhere in the world.

Two new forms completely different from newspapers appeared in early 20th century: radio and newsreels. In the 1920s newsreels reached about 40 million people a week in some 18.000 film theaters. In the 1950s and 1960s they were displaced by television. Radio has been more successful. Also starting in the 1920s, they borrowed most of their information from local newspapers, but soon developed own newsgathering facilities. By World War II radio had a huge audience.

The first public television broadcasts were made by CBS and NBC in 1930. Regular broadcasting services started on April 30, 1939 together wit the opening of the New York World’s Fair. At the end of 1946 there were 12 stations working on a commercial basis. In the 1950s television became commercially viable, and by 1881, 98 per cent of all homes in the United States owned at least one television set. News shows became growingly popular, as a result the issues of local daily newspapers have decreased.

With the rise of cable TV the variety of programs became larger, and thus the sources of information and opinions as well. Furthermore the development of satellite TV made it possible to send directly from places of events what was used for example in the second and third Gulf war (see also chapter 5 and 6).

During the 19th century many newspapers and magazines began to campaign for social and political reforms as one way to attract mass audiences.

Since its early times newspapers have become more analytical. They are not able to spread news as instantly as radio or TV so they have specialized in giving extensive background stories on the news. Most editors try to give explanations, or at least interpretations, for events. They still aim a mass readership so they have to explain for the masses.

The investigative journalism is very popular in the USA. It is actually the only country in the world where journalists have (theoretically) nearly unlimited access to information of all kinds. As long as it does not threat the state itself, media can publish nearly everything (except blaming, insult etc. of course) without being punished. These rights led e.g. to the so-called Watergate scandal or to the trouble President Bill Clinton had while his time in the White House. While Nixon fell over his scandal Clinton survived and ended his second term of office.[5]

3 History of U.S. War Coverage

The history of American war coverage actually started in 1844. Five days after a telegraph sent its first message, its inventor Samuel F. B. Morse received the message of the Democrat’s presidential nomination of James K. Polk. Polk’s war with Mexico was the first American conflict covered by war correspondents. The reports were distributed via pony express and telegraph, and then published in the penny press for millions of Americans.[6]

While the crisis of Cuba with Spain, Hearst and Pulitzer sold lots of copies with stories about the Cuban people and their problems with the Spanish colonists. Later on Hearst promoted a war against Spain in his papers. The Congress picked up his opinion and, in 1897, pressured President McKinley to recognize the crisis as a possible American conflict. After the explosion of the war ship “Maine” in Havana harbor, the yellow press and with them lots of congressmen screamed for a war against Spain. It worked out quite well. In 1898 war was declared (Spanish-American War). In the 1960s investigations brought out that the “Maine” probably exploded because of problems with the machinery.[7]

Within World War I, war coverage became more intense when the U.S. entered the war, and after its end. Before 1917, the American public was made aware by the press of the fact that the European war could become an American struggle, too. The ways were not too long to not possibly get onto American ground, and the Industrial Revolution had brought up a lot of technical investigations that made transport much easier.


[1] LaFeber, Walter: The American Age. U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad. W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London, 1994.

[2] Adams, W. P., E.-O. Czempiel, B. Ostendorf, K. L. Shell, P. B. Spahn, M. Zöller (Hrsg.): Länderbericht USA I; Länderbericht USA II. Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung, Schriftenreihe Band 293/I und 293/II, Bonn, 1992.

[3] Paletz, David L.: The Media in American Politics. Longman, 2002.

[4] Microsoft® Encarta® 96 Encyclopedia. 1993-1995 Microsoft Corporation.

[5] All information taken from Microsoft® Encarta® 96

[6] LaFeber: p. 95f.

[7] LaFeber: p. 198f.

Excerpt out of 21 pages


War Coverage in the American Media
Ernst Moritz Arndt University of Greifswald  (Anglistics/ American Studies)
American Media Culture
2 (B)
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
462 KB
Coverage, American, Media, American, Media, Culture
Quote paper
Juliane Weuffen (Author), 2004, War Coverage in the American Media, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/30393


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