As Exhibit A, we have the exquisite sarcasm of General Robert E. Lee:
It appears we have appointed our worst generals to command forces, and our most gifted and brilliant to edit newspapers. In fact, I discovered by reading newspapers that these editor/geniuses plainly saw all my strategic defects from the start, yet failed to inform me until it was too late.
“Accordingly, I am readily willing to yield my command to these obviously superior intellects, and I will, in turn, do my best for the
Cause by writing editorials – after the fact.
And then there’s Exhibit B, the more direct approach of General William Tecumseh Sherman:
I hate newspapermen. They come into camp and pick up their camp rumors and print them as facts. I regard them as spies, which, in truth, they are. If I killed them all there would be news from Hell before breakfast.
It seems the journalistic tradition of second-guessing, error, and disclosure of sensitive information in war is a long one. The needs of the press are antithetical to the needs of the military. The first seeks “scoops” and sensational information; it’s just too boring to be supportive cheerleaders. The press has its macho need for bravery as well, and that is defined quite differently from the valor of the military. Perhaps some members of the press are even envious of the latter, and seek to challenge it with their own feats of daring.
The press serves a needed function, of course: to inform the public. But during a war, this is a delicate balancing act. Too much emphasis on the death, destruction, and setbacks that inevitably go with any war can hamper the war effort in a way that serves neither the country nor its people. Unfortunately, all too often, the press errs on the side of being oppositional in a kneejerk manner, rather than achieving the balance that would be most beneficial to everyone.