Pen vs. sword

By Joel McNally

Relations between the military and the media have become lively in the wake of the September 11 attacks and the resulting "War on Terror." However, according to Lorne Gunter of the Edmonton Journal, the eventual nature of this relationship remains to be seen.

Gunter, a columnist at the Journal, gave a talk hosted by the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies entitled The Media-Military Relationship, Friends or Foes? The talk took place on Thu., Oct. 25 in the MacKimmie Library Tower, and between 35 and 40 attended.

Gunter’s presentation was conducted along the idea that while the media and military are not bitter enemies they can safely be classified as "foes" instead of friends.

He explained that media relations with the military depend on the situation in question.

"If we’re talking about soldiers having to use food banks or a squishy picture of peacekeepers returning home, then the media are friends of the military," he said. "If you’re talking about the negative economic impact of base closures, then the media are foes."

Gunter also pointed out that the fundamental nature of the military is opposed to ideals held dear by the generation currently running the newsroom.

"You’re really looking at an organization whose function is to kill people and destroy stuff," Gunter explained. "The newsroom is run by children of the ’60s and ’70s and the flower child mentality is still very persuasive."

In addition to hostility, Gunter said the media also exhibits a great deal of apathy toward military stories.

"Covering the military is not a quick path to the senior editor’s office," he said. "During peacetime, covering the military is a back-
water [assignment]."

However, Gunter added that this relationship isn’t the same both ways. "I don’t get the sense that most military people are as suspicious of the media as the media are of the military," he elaborated. "But when something goes wrong and they don’t want all of the truth to fall out, they can be foes of the media."

Gunter also stressed that while reflexive hostility or apathy on the part of the media is not needed, a certain amount of skepticism is appropriate.

"There is the tendency to be bought off by all the gizmos and the gadgets and the camaraderie and the honour," Gunter cautioned.

In light of the terrorist attacks, Gunter expressed optimism that the media will pay more attention to military stories without becoming cheerleaders for any war effort that materializes.

"There is potential to be too uncritical of the military," he said. "The military does need to be watched and politicians aren’t always the ones to do that."

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