But how has it actually affected reporting?
We have a pretty accurate account of what’s happening on the ground within the month, sometimes within days. That simply wasn’t true in Vietnam. We are vastly better able to know the war today.
In Vietnam the military gave journalists a ride to the front and let them roam around, so mr and mrs Smith could watch Johnny get shot up by the VC, but it didn’t actually say anything about the war, or about what the soldiers were doing when they weren’t on camera.
To me that sort of thing is basically pornography. As part of the coverage it’s fine, it shows you what the soldiers go through (The Battle for Marjah and Restrepo being modern examples of same) but it doesn’t get you what actually matters: Military and political thinking, the conduct of operations, the effects of operations, what people should expect going forward. We are actually getting that now.
Today we have a nearly real-time account of two wars, including some stunning detail on what goes on within some military units.
It can’t be perfect, and it won’t be complete until the historians dig in, but as a nerd I am stunned by what I’m able to learn just by reading the news, using a search machine, reading a book, or watching a documentary.
To this day you still can’t get that level of information on Vietnam. The press actually did get Tet wrong, according to both North Vietnamese and US commanders. It’s still not clear what happened at Thuy Bo or Thanh Phong. No one gave a damn what happened to the Vietnamese, including journalists, so god knows what else fell through the cracks along the way.
It has never been harder for the military or the politicians running a war to keep a secret than it is right now.
They despise it (at least until they develop an agenda worth leaking stuff for) but there’s not a whole lot they can do about it. I think it’s pretty clear that the journalists are winning that war.