8 thoughts on “Innerview: Susan Carruthers


    Warfare during the early parts of the 21st century was in a content metamorphosis of media discourses that enraptured both warfare in the immediate and from a distance (Virillo 1989:64). The transformation of context provided for complex social, cultural and historical shifts that reframed debates (Semetko 2012:1). Embedded journalists provided as a translator to scenario’s, elaborating the uncertainty of war, and exposing militaristic values that posed risks and challenged forms of war impacting particularly on the US. The shift of dialogue in the modern age was more focused on the relative frame predictions, prophecies, forecasts and expectations when trying to assess futures for war and peace (Semetko 2012:2)
    Visionmachine’s 2010 Spotlight on Media and War featuring Professor Susan Carruthers, author of the book Media at War, talks about the historical and contemporary dimensions of the media in US warfare. The recording focuses on four points of discussion; Media in Afghanistan 2001, Media in Iraq 2003, The Coverage Production of Embedded Journalism, and the ‘Soda Straw’ View. Central to these sections is the perception of media by the US military, and the evolution of media technology with the global landscape, and how this shaped/presented War in the early 21stC. Central to each segment of discussion is the evolution of the media in relation to its involvements, portal and use in war itself.

    The media context, as presented by Carruthers, represents a predominant approach in the categorisation of media content and its function/effect during early 21stC US warfare, and allows the examination of societal functions that the content is intended to serve (Reese 2012:253). These functions of war media at the time served to distinguish an approach that audiences self-identified and humanized with troops while also correlated intentional persuasive propaganda messages to highly patriotic audiences (De Vreese 2012:299, Plotnick 2012:659, Virillo 1989: 25,59).
    However, Carruthers argument is not without flaws, and functions such as these are no longer exclusive categories. News is increasingly evolving into fluid and hybrid forms of media, multipolarity has allowed audiences access to global and alternative news organizations that do not operate or broadcast in the US monopoly alone (Al Nashmi 2011:30, Pew 2011a). What once was relatively easily differentiation ‘news and politics’ and ‘entertainment marketing’, have now combined in substance and style (De Vreese 2012:295, Reese 2012: 254). Given this hybridized media environment, Carruthers argument meets issues in its relevance; News functions are no longer just provided for but have become self-providing, investing into a number of different spaces of politics both internal and external (NGO’s, Private groups, independent corporations). Arguably, as noted in Carruthers interview the inclusion of Aljazeera media sources from the 2003 Iraq period, evidences a greater expansion of media networking outside the US and its initiative. The Arab news network was global and gaining popularity, covering an approximated 40% of the media on the 2003 war, and provided a different war narrative to the US (Al Nashmi 2011:12). Aljazeera supplied not only the ‘Eastern View’ but also featured exclusive first images of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, including interviews with Osama Bin Laden (Al Nashmi 2011:21-22). Western governments and media labeled the network as advocating terrorism; former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld even described it as “[the] mouthpiece for terrorists” (El-Nawaway & Iskandar 2003: 40). This reflects back on Carruthers argument that outlined the how the media remained controlled, retaining the larger political questions on war legitimacy limited therefore forcing audiences to one particular perspective. However the induction of a (once perceived) terrorist network Aljazeera, undermines this argument. Carruthers points may be US-centric, but the inclusion of outside sources including an expanding integration of reporters would have allowed for different perceptions of war reporting to occur.

    Additionally, the self provisions of news organizations in the hybridized media environment has allowed for embedded journalism into a social space where power is no longer just given or granted by larger authority (Al Nashmi 2011:15). Carruthers emphasized that embedded journalism focuses[d] on the troops themselves, governed by the ideology that such reporting heightened sense of identification to the solider via the media intimacy (Plotnick 2012:659, Virillo 1989:62). And that this spectator position promoted a patriotism that portrayed combatants never as agents of harm, nor representing a force of occupation, but instead presented as the victims of insurgents in an escalating environment. However Carruthers examination of this Soda Straw View is also restrained, while the microapertures from multiple media platforms and sources were restrained by the Pentagon (See Footnote 1) , the landscape of the war environment portrayed by media membership was not limited to the partisans and bias of perceptions (Ariyanto 2007:267). Media within this period did forgo patriarchic limitations, groups within the Middle East were aware of the importance of perception, media (especially privatized outlets) responded to this via aligning to groups themselves. Thus there was this environment where interests and directives of embedded reporters did extend further than the US initiative and bias. Hence, news content had surpassed providing emotional bridges and symbolic environments that Carruthers stated they exclusively participated in (Virillo 1989:25). Both Ariyanto and Reese note that it was this progression of war media that allowed for connecting citizens in a 2 way discourse with the political world, providing a deliberative space for voices that has connected into the mainstream and increasing the importance of domestic opinions and say in warfare (Ariyanto 2007:277, Reese 2012:254-255).

    Carruthers argument meets criticism with contemporary means of understanding politics. Given that this interview was recorded in 2010 only a small time period of events are discussed. The 2003 Iraq war saw a large scale lockdown on which media personnel could enter warzones and exactly the types of content that could be reported on. However in the contemporary context such notions are no longer convincing, and new news frames have provided a contrasting view to Carruthers.
    In order to improve the interview it could be suggested that considering the continuation of embedded journalism in today’s warfare, that a more contemporary/concurrent use of such procedures by the US should have been discussed, or at least noted. Further dialogue of the US actions during 2010 would have allowed exploration of the media during Al-Qaeda’s insurgency in Yemen including the US’s drone strikes; and the continuation of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’ (of which was mentioned in Carruthers spotlight) now replaced by ‘Operation New Dawn’. The spotlight also could have allowed for discussion on military efforts in relation to non-military only practices, including humanitarian aid – of which would have supported Carruthers point on portraying troops as an intrinsic part of the conflict landscape, ‘a hero providing support and peace’. Additionally a further contemporary focus would have allowed for the extended definition of Embedded Journalism whereby the media awareness in war has enabled the rise of the Citizen journalist (via social media) adding another voice/view to the multipolar war landscape (Gillmor 2004:59).

    In conclusion, Carruthers represents a predominant approach in the categorisation of media content as provided by the US in the early 21stC. Its focus of discussion deconstructs the evolution of media technology and it use by military and governmental operatives to shape, frame and position war. By these terms, Carruthers interview remains convincing means of classification of media functions in context and content including the application of embedded journalism. It should however be recognized when taking this interview into account that it is dated, despite being recording in 2010, the focus of the interview still remains connected to events several years prior. Additionally it’s discussion of the media at war, does not deliberate on the further evolution and involvement of media, the internet, private and social media companies/individuals, and the evolution of terrorists also using media as a weapon in conflict. While it may have a narrower focus on embedded journalism, the argument presented is broad and should contain these categories, including concurrent embedded journalism.
    Visionmachine’s 2010 Spotlight on Media and War featuring Professor Susan Carruthers is a well deconstructed outline of the use of media in US warfare in the early 21stC, not only did it provide a more elaborative understanding of event politically, but also detailed and evaluated the evolution and use of the media my government and militants critically, thus in so providing a well-defined and legitimate perspective.

    (Footnote 1): The Pentagon sustains war representation with very little sense of the backing political climate or larger interpretive framework that could allow for further understanding to why an action is taking place or the wider geostrategic purposes behind operations. Therefore, embedded journalism in this time period retained the larger political questions on war legitimacy limited, forcing audiences to one particular perspective (Carruthers 2010)

    (Words: 1438 (inc. footnote))

    Al Nashmi, Eisa. ‘Aljazeera on Youtube: A Credible Source in the United States?’. University of Florida Press. 2011. Print. Available via ProQuest:

    Ariyanto, A., Matthew J. Hornsey & Cindy Gallois. ‘Group Allegiances and Perceptions of Media Bias: Taking into Account both the Perceiver and the Source’. Group Processes and Intergroup Relations. 2007. (10.2):266-279

    Bellamy, J. Alex & Paul D. Williams. Understanding Peacekeeping. 2nd Ed. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2010. Print

    (Carruthers 2000a) Carruthers, L. Susan. The Media at War: Communication and the Conflict in the 20thC. 1st Ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2000. Print.

    (Carruthers 2011b) Carruthers, L. Susan. The Media at War. 2nd Ed. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. 2011. Print.

    El-Nawawy, M & Adel Iskandar. Al-Jazeera: The Story of the Network That Is Rattling Governments and Redefining Modern Journalism. 1st Ed. Cambridge, MA: Westview Press. 2003. Print.

    Gillmor, Dan. ‘We the Media: The Rise of the Citizen Journalists’. National Civic Review. 2004. (93.3):58-63

    Guiboa, Ryan. Media Influence on Public Opinion During War: A Good or Bad Capability. 2003. Online. Accessed September 3rd 2015. Available at:

    Paris, Roland. At War’s End: Building Peace After Civil Conflict.1st Ed. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2004. Print.

    Pew Research Centre: US Politics and Policy. (Pew 2011a) Media Credibility. 2011. Accessed September 3rd 2015. Available at: http://www.people-press.org/2008/08/17/media-credibility/

    Plotnick, Rachel. ‘Predicting Push-Button Warfare: US Print Media and Conflict from a Distance, 1945-2010’. Sage: Media Culture and Society. 2012. (34.6):655-672

    Rid, Thomas & Marc Hecker. War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age. New York: Praeger Security International. 2nd Ed. 2009. Print.

    Semetko, A. Holli & Margaret Scammell (eds.). ‘News Media and War’. The SAGE Handbook of Political Communication. 2012. Accessed: September 1st 2015. Available at:
    Used Chapters:
    – Reese, D. Stephen & Jae Kook Le. ‘Chapter 20:Understandng the Content of New Media’ pp.253-264
    -De Vreese, H. Claes & Sophie Lecheler. ‘Chapter 23: News Framing Research: An Overview and New Developments’.pp.292-307
    – Aday, Sean & Robert M Entman & Steven Livingston. ‘Chapter 25: Media, Power and US Forign Policy’. pp.327-342

    Virillo, Paul. War and Cinema: The Logistics of Perception. 1st Ed. London: Verso Books Publishing. 1989. Print.

  2. Looking Through the ‘Soda Straw’, is it Still Possible in the age of Web 2.0? A Response to Susan Carruthers

    In her interview with The Vision Machine, Professor Susan Carruthers posits that the Pentagon’s ‘risky step’ in allowing embedded journalists onto the frontline of the Iraq War was a calculated gamble. Instead it lead to a ‘soda straw’ view of the conflict developing, where the general public was given a view of events that despite being close to the action was devoid of the larger interpretive framework that allowed for broader questioning of the conflict. Carruthers’s argument is an insightful look into the strategy taken by the Pentagon’s media advisors in the 2003 Iraq War, however, it is doubtful that such a strategy could be used after the transformation of the Internet, particularly the boom of citizen journalism. To understand why this is the case I will survey the following points. Firstly, Carruthers ‘soda straw’ argument will be examined in order to understand how the media’s coverage of the Iraq War played out. After this the continual relevance embedding reporters with front line troops (and thereby analysis of such practices) will be scrutinized in the context of Web 2.0. In doing so I will focus on how embedding has become redundant in the new media landscape and why the adaptive nature of war will mean that states and militaries will seek to harness these new tools to disseminate information.

    Carruthers begins her interview by noting that the terrorist attacks of September 11th 2001 fundamentally changed the media management ‘rules of engagement’. In the wake of these attacks the US was swept with a wave of hyper-nationalism, from both government and grass roots citizenry demanding that journalists ‘toe the American line’. This removed fears in the Pentagon that the developments in communication technology had made journalists difficult to control in a battlefield environment and ultimately allowed them to alter their media strategy in both the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions. During the Afghanistan invasion, combat was conducted by way of bombardment and Special Forces that, by their very nature, precluded reporters from being present directly on the ground. When the Iraq invasion began in 2003 the form of combat was more conventional, allowing for the Pentagon to enact its ‘risky’ strategy of embedding reporters with the US military forces that would take part in the invasion. Ostensibly, this was a risky decision with a chance that citizens back home could see too much, creating a repeat of the Vietnam War, where imagery of the conflict played a crucial role in the loss of public support (Phiney 2011: 11).

    However, in reality this never, nor was it likely to, eventuate. Instead the coverage of the Iraq War consisted of live crosses to reporters, talking in conversational tones as the might of the US military was displayed traversing the Iraqi desert. This had a twofold effect. On one hand, embedding brought the war directly to the inattentive public, forming a connection between the troops at the front line and the home front. In doing so the US forces were never displayed as agents of harm but rather as a group of people attempting to do their job in trying circumstances. Secondly, discourse was limited to immediate questions of survival, with the big picture questions such as the legality and legitimacy of military action or the actual existence of weapons of mass destruction being relegated to the periphery. As a result, embedding created an image of the conflict as if it were viewed through a ‘soda straw’. The public received a close look at the frontline action, but lacked the larger interpretive framework needed to make sense of the war.

    Curruthers’s argument is difficult to refute, especially with the litany of academic and journalistic articles attesting to the constraining effects of embedded journalism on the ability of the reporters and the public to obtain a holistic view of the conflict (cf Lindner 2009: 23; Cockburn 2013; Carruthers 2011: 227-228). Furthermore, the impetus for the Pentagon strategy is clear as their control stems from their ability to maintain public legitimacy (Habermas 1987: 270). The bigger question is whether the model of embedded journalism mobilized by the Pentagon in Iraq is still a viable option in a world where anyone with a smartphone is a citizen journalist. There is no doubt that evolution of the internet to Web 2.0, where the focus has shifted to user generated content has had profound consequences for how information is accessed and disseminated (Benkler 2006: 180). This has created a new form of political mobilization that challenges the state’s hegemony on the dissemination of information during conflict (O’Hagan 2013: 556). Previously traditional media limited agency to a small group of central media gatekeepers, particular elites and professional journalists, making it easy for governments to exert influence and control the message (Kaempf 2013: 595). Now with the proliferation of Web 2.0 the information landscape has became one of hetreopolarity with platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, WikiLeaks and blogs allowing communication on unprecedented levels (Meraz 2009: 682). In these circumstances the ‘soda straw’ is cast away, as cell phone footage, tweets and blogs from a range of actors refute the confined viewpoint of the embedded journalist (Alan 2004: 357). As the Arab spring has shown us, states can no longer obfuscate the realities of conflict, as the civilian population that bares the brunt of the suffering can quickly disseminate vision of every missile strike, air raid and casualty to the web (Banham 2013: 613).

    To counter the optimism of above, the birth of Web 2.0 has led to the rise of War 2.0. War and the political elites that control it change and evolve practices to fit new circumstances and technologies (Cunningham 2010: 522; Der Derian 2013: 575). In response to the shifting media landscape previous practices will be modified to fit with new technology. As a result, the next wave of media management will seek to keep pace with these developments. To an extent this is already happening, with the Israeli Army removing foreign media from Lebanon in 2008 and supplanting it with an army run information service broadcast wholly through social media (Kaempf 2013: 600; Banham 2013: 616). States have started employing the mechanisms of Web 2.0 to cut fact-checking procedures done by the traditional media, instead broadcasting misinformation, provocation and distortion straight to their targets without the chance that it will be left on the cutting room floor or juxtaposed with an alternative opinion (Banham 2013: 617).

    In her interview Carruthers begins by stepping through the context of the US invasion of Iraq, examining the political and media background. Following this she sets out her ‘soda straw’ theory whereby the intention of the embedding program is analysed. She concludes that the Pentagon’s strategy was successful. It created a false reality whereby the troops on the ground were never painted as agents of harm, instead merely men and women attempting to complete a difficult task. The discourse was limited to immediate questions of survival, rather than broader questions such as the legitimacy and legality of the conflict. However, embedding reporters is no longer a feasible media management strategy in context of Web 2.0 where the hetropolarity of media sources drown out the official state sanctioned narrative. As a result leaders of nations and their militaries have had to adapt by employing the tools of Web 2.0 to bring their message straight to the public, free of the checks and balances of the traditional media. The fragmentation of the media landscape means that embedding, and therefore the ‘soda straw’ analysis may be limited to the distinct period of the Iraq War and therefore is unlikely to be a strategy employed in future conflicts.

    Reference List

    Allan, Stuart. 2004. ‘The Culture of Distance: Online Reporting of the War in Iraq’. In Reporting War: Journalism in Wartime, eds. S. Allan & B. Zelizer. Oxford: Routledge.

    Banham, Cynthia. 2013. ‘Legitimising War in a Changing Media Landscape’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 605-620.

    Benkler, Yochai. 2006. The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Networks. New Haven: Yale University Press.

    Carruthers, Susan. 2011. Media at War. Basingstoke: Palgrave.

    Cockburn, Patrick. 2013. ‘Embedded Jouralism: A Distorted View of War‘. The Independent. Accessed 3 September 2015. Available at

    Cunningham, Ken. 2010. ‘A Critical Theory of the “Rationality” of US Foreign Policy: The Case of the American War in Vietnam’. New Political Science 24(4): 509-523.

    Der Derian, James. 2013. ‘From War 2.0 to Quantum War: The Superpositionality of Global Violence’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 570-585.

    Habermas, Jurgen. 1987. The Theory of Communicative Action: Volume II. Boston: Beacon Press.

    Kaempf. Sebastian. 2013. ‘The Mediatisation of War in a Transforming Global Media Landscape’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 586-604.

    O’Hagan, Jacinta. 2013. ‘War 2.0: An Analytical Framework’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 555-569.

    Lindner, Andrew. 2009. ‘Among the Troops: Seeing the Iraq War Through Three Journalistic Vantage Points’. Social Problems 56(1): 21.

    Meraz, Sharon. 2009. ‘Is there an Elite? Traditional Media to Social Media Agenda Setting Influence in Blog Networks’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14(1): 682-707.

    Phinney, Jacqueline. 2011. ‘And That’s the way it is: The Media’s Role in Ending the Vietnam War’. DJM 7(1): 2-15.

  3. 1. The feature’s core argument, whether it is convincing, and why

    The Vision Machine’s interview with Susan Carruthers presents a compelling account of how the media was managed by the Pentagon in its coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at the beginning of the twenty first century. Carruthers, a professor at Rutgers University who wrote ‘The Media at War’, releasing a second edition to deal largely with this sole topic, lays out the ways in which the Pentagon managed to successfully control the narrative and imagery produced by a media newly able to bypass traditional forms of telecommunications. She explains in a precise and matter of fact way how the Pentagon achieved this control by relying on a heavily securitized, hyper patriotic post-9/11 environment and the particular geopolitical nature of the conflict in Afghanistan, and by engaging reporters in a massive embedded journalism program in Iraq which brought the viewer in ‘close’ to see the conflict from the perspective of embedded journalists (and soldiers), marginalizing big-picture criticism. Carruthers’ core argument is that the Pentagon achieved a great deal of success with these attempts to manage the media, and managed to achieve this success in a way that avoided relying on direct censorship or (overtly) restricting access.
    The academic literature on this topic is largely in agreement with Carruthers’ central point (Lindner 2008: 33, Louw 2005: 228, Fahmy and Johnson 2005: 301 and Kelley 2003: 57). The Pentagon’s media management strategies in Afghanistan and Iraq are widely cited as an example of successful media management. Tumber and Palmer (2004: 48) document a collection of experienced journalists marvelling at the depth of coverage they were able to achieve through the embedding program, for example ABC’s Ted Koppel reporting being ‘astounded at the level of access’, and then go on to detail all the ways in which the program limited the vision of journalists through access restriction and bringing about the identification of journalists with the soldiers (Tumber and Palmer 2004: 51). Carruthers’ theory is supported and furthered by this literature, and the narrative she conveys in The Vision Machine’s interview accounts for both the actions of the Pentagon and the media, and the coverage that followed.
    The ‘historical’ nature of the framing of her presentation, despite the described events occurring merely a decade ago, also helps make her case convincing. Rather than positing a more general theory of media management techniques, Carruthers ‘tells the story’ of what happened in Iraq and Afghanistan, allowing for more definitive and incontestable statements and eliminating the risk of ongoing developments undermining her narrative.

    2. How the feature could have made its argument in a more convincing manner

    Though short, the interview with Professor Carruthers managed to make a compelling case as to how the Pentagon’s media management was successful. However, it might also have been useful to explore the means by which the US came to arrive at this sudden reversal of media management strategy – from restricting access to combat during the first Gulf War (Stahl 2010: 23) to herding reporters toward combat units. Carruthers mentions that the Pentagon likes to portray its choice of media strategy as a big risk, but states she does not believe this to be the case – that the Pentagon got what it wanted and knew what it would get. This claim is believable with the benefit of hindsight, in the context of the strategy’s success, but as a theory itself it might have been served well by the presence of some supporting evidence.
    This evidence could have come in the form of an explanation of how the Pentagon came to be involved with reality TV producers such as Jerry Bruckheimer, and how the lessons it learnt from its experience with shows such as Profiles from the Front Line in Afghanistan led directly to its attempts to emulate such coverage in real news coverage of its war in Iraq (Cottle 2006: 94). This attempt to make real life coverage look more like reality TV is a well-documented key element of what numerous international relations scholars refer to as ‘militainment’ (Stahl 2010: 41). An explanation of this link with reality TV would have accounted for the personalization of coverage that Carruthers refers to in the interview, as well as the emphasis on the live nature of that coverage. It also would have conveyed how making the journalist ‘the star’ of the reality program had the effect of ‘drafting’ the viewer into the unit– amplifying the effect she speaks about in which the audience identifies with the sense of danger felt by the unit, serving to marginalize criticism of the war as the discourse became one of survival rather than questioning of the war (Carruthers 2011: 229-231).
    It also would have been interesting if Professor Carruthers had been able to explore the technological and media shifts that took place during the time between the Gulf War and the invasion of Iraq. She mentions the change in satellite technology available to reporters, but doesn’t mention the new media landscape arising as a result of emergent digital technology (Rid and Hecker 2009: 29). While live cable broadcasts were novel during the Gulf War (Rid and Hecker 2009: 6), by 2003 they were an established genre and driving force of news, with multiple, competing, agenda-driven stations hungry for content. New media drove a demand that could not have been sated by the pooling system, but also provided opportunities that the Pentagon was able to recognize and exploit – for example army-sanctioned computer games, and ‘millblogs’, which Carruthers does acknowledge in her book (2011: 244). A mention of the changes in the media itself brought about by new technology would have served to support Carruthers’ account of a shift in the Pentagon’s media management strategy by providing context for how the shift came about and was able to be successful now as opposed to before such change, and by further explaining how the Pentagon arrived at the strategy.

    3. The existence of counter-evidence which might cast doubt on the feature’s core argument

    While the academic consensus appears to be that Carruthers’ core argument is sound, there is an element of it which is open to contestation. The Pentagon’s success at shaping the narrative produced by media organizations is supposed to have been achieved without a resort to direct censorship or a restriction of access. In reality, however, this wasn’t quite the case. By the very nature of their being embedded with, and forming close relationships with, units of soldiers, embedded journalists were subject to restrictions every day as to who they could speak with – getting any members of a unit offside made things very difficult, and ran the risk of getting the journalist kicked out of the unit (Tumber and Palmer 2004: 27). While journalists were of course able to leave the embedding program and report independently, doing so meant losing access to an incredible amount (and type) of access (and footage). Consequently, embedded reporters would engage in a trade-off – a voluntary restriction of their freedom to report on any topic (and a restriction on the viewpoint they were likely to form, which was explicitly acknowledged by media organizations even as the embedding program was still being run [Tumber and Palmer 2004: 26]), in exchange for heightened access. Rather than this being a function of the Pentagon’s ability to shape the media’s portrayal of the conflict through deft psychological manipulation, this was instead simply indicative of the Pentagon’s ability to understand the incentives to which the media would respond. While this doesn’t directly contradict Carruthers’ account of the Pentagon’s media management strategy as presented in this feature, it does serve to slightly undermine the compelling nature of the narrative that the Pentagon was able to achieve its goals without restricting the media’s access.

    4. Conclusion

    In conclusion, Carruthers’ key assertion in this feature, that the Pentagon was able to control the narrative and imagery of a media newly able to bypass traditional censorship structures, and did so apparently without resorting to direct censorship or restriction of access, is well structured and presented and is ultimately compelling. It is supported by key academic literature and other accounts of the events of the time. However, it might have benefited from an exploration of the reason for the reversal in strategy for Iraq, the reality TV connection, and an exploration of the changing media context in which this reversal took place, to more fully explain how and why the strategy was successful, and perhaps shifting the feature from a plausible, compelling account of events to a truly convincing one.

    Word count: 1430.

    Reference List

    Carruthers, Susan L. 2011. The Media at War. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
    Cottle, Simon. 2006. Mediatized Conflict: Developments in Media and Conflict Studies. Berkshire: Open University Press.
    Fahmy, Shahira and Thomas J Johnson. 2005. ‘”How We Performed”: Embedded Journalists’ Attitudes and Perceptions Towards Covering the Iraq War.’ Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly Volume 82(2): 301-317.
    Kelley, Elaine. 2003. ‘Journalist back from Iraqi front lines calls embedded strategy “unparalleled success”’. The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs Volume 22(6): 57.
    Lindner, Andrew M. 2008. ‘Controlling the Media in Iraq’. Contexts Volume 7(2): 32-39.
    Louw, Eric. 2005. The Media and Political Process. Sage Publications: London.
    Rid, Thomas and Marc Hecker. 2009. War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age. Westport: Praeger.
    Stahl, Roger. 2010. Militainment, Inc.: War, Media and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.
    Tumber, Howard and Jerry Palmer. 2004. Media at War: The Iraq Crisis. Sage Publications: London.

  4. Spotlight – Critical Blog Post (The Vision Machine)

    Susan Carruthers, the author of Media at War in her interview outline the evolution of media in reporting wars and its outcomes. She started off by explaining the situation in Afghanistan during operation enduring freedom 2002 where media is excluded due to the high risk nature of the war. She then continue by noting the introduction of embedded journalism in the 2003 Iraq War and how the reporting is different from the 1991 Gulf War. Embedded journalism was a much more expansive operation than the pooling system, it included much wider range of publication and it allowed more personal contact with the troops in action. Subsequently, this lead to the production of reports that are seen as more personal and more biased towards the American troops. Carruthers concludes that such reporting lead to what she consider as the ‘soda straw’ view of the world.
    In relation to that, she argues that embedded journalism was a product of strategic politics by the Pentagon that exist to gain public support for the war by keeping the focus away from the larger political purpose of the war. It was deployed at a strategic moment given the engagement with the 9/11 incident. The rise in patriotism among citizenry changes the view of war by the media which eventually provide an advantage for the military. The kind of report that embedded journalism produced are the ones that lead to what is known as the ‘soda straw’ view of the war. This is the kind of view that allow the audience to see certain aspects of the war in depth but it is narrowed in a way that it ignored the larger political setting of it.
    The argument that she presented is rather convincing and this can be proved by analysing the relationship between the Pentagon and the public through media with the support of several literature works. Journalism is being regard as the “most important form of public knowledge in contemporary society” (Robert Hackett, 1998, p. 1) and this is especially true during the Vietnam War. The media is said to ‘lost the war’ in Vietnam (Carruthers, 2011, p. 96). Journalist at that time was seen as too ignorant and were not sufficiently expert to understand and deliver the events and trends (Cook, 1995, p. 1). This form of journalism shaped how the public perceived and approached the conflict (Kaempf, 2013, p. 586). Thus, given the negative perception of war by the public, the military learned that it is best to keep the press out of their matters (Cook, 1995, p. 1). Ultimately, after the 9/11 incident, given the shift in public opinion which favours more towards the Pentagon, a new strategy is being developed to engage with the unconventional war. The military introduces the concept of ‘embedded journalism’ which will be used “to facilitate maximum, in-depth coverage of US forces in combat and related operations” (Tuosto, 2008, p. 21). The outcome of embedded reporting on the American public is a distraction from and desensitization to war and maintenance of American overconfidence in military capability (Tuosto, 2008, p. 22). In order to explain how such effects are created, it is important to focus on how strategic narrative works in the first place. Strategic narrative as a soft power resource is being applied for its ability to provide the medium for shared understanding that can improve interaction, reduce tension and alleviate conflicts (Roselle, 2014, p. 72). This is done by communicating a clear and consistent storyline that focuses on the positive purpose of the war and its development (Calley, 2016, p. 222). In relation to that, war is being carried out to situate risk and dangers in the form of physical, political, economy and moral hazard on the enemy. The media then portrayed such situation to justify the legitimacy of the war and its humanitarian principles (Morehouse, 2015, p. 35). Not only that, media becomes an important instrument to trigger emotional response among its audience and enhance personal experience of the home front with the situation of the soldiers in battlefield. In this case, war can be regarded as a cinema because not only that it affect the material life but it also affect the thinking of the nation. War is no longer managed by the rational state of mind, but instead it is managed by the forces of affective, transcendence or shared origin which lead men (Virilio, 1989, p. 39). Men has the tendency to confuse their optical illusion with illusion of life and survival. Their understanding goes beyond the question of morality or humanity, instead it turns into a struggle of existence (Virilio, 1989, p. 39). Media in turn was reluctant to depict the otherwise nor question the legitimacy of it in order to avoid from being perceived negatively by their audience (Stig A. Nohrstedt, 2014, p. 24). Consequently, this gives more rise in support for the war by the public and the media (Roselle, 2014, p. 80).
    The interview is compelling but it is only limited around the sphere of traditional media and that makes it too simplistic. Nevertheless, her argument would be harder to refute if she were to include her notion of ‘soda straw view’ into today’s heteropolar media landscape particularly with the existence of the internet. In this case, would her argument on ‘soda straw view’ still be applicable? It seems that news consumption on the internet are more selective and personalized than through traditional media. This increases fear about the disruption of community and mutual understandings (Fred Fletcher, 2012, p. 12). The Internet has allowed ‘defiant publics’ to challenge dominant ideas and regimes and redesign public discourse (Fred Fletcher, 2012, p. 12). What is depicted by the media through embedded journalism might not be well received directly as there might be more contestation surrounding the issue among the public. This is done through the engagement of many more actors from different background in variant social networks. The ubiquity of new media makes more actors powerful (Derian, 2013). This kind of ‘new’ media gives crucial opportunities for new forms of challenges to both democratic and authoritarian regimes. The better circulation of information is clearly threatening for the control of political communication by the authority. Certainly, internet has advanced the ideal of public sphere where ‘politics is done by the citizens rather than for citizens’ (Drache, 2008, p. 125).
    In discussing the counter argument against her notion, it is important to address the effectiveness of strategic narratives adopted by the Pentagon through the establishment of embedded journalism in producing the kind of response that they desired. The formation and projection of narratives is just as important as its interpretation. The interpretation is where the persuasiveness and engagement is experienced. However, narrative as an interpretive concept is hard to define. This makes it challenging to ultimately draw the causation between communication and its real world effects on audiences. It is common for foreign policy planners to uncritically display narrative as a powerful tool of communication. It is true but only to a certain extent and may it defy the ‘unrealistic expectation’ of what they assumed (Colley, 2016, p. 223). This is because, the elements of ‘resonance with national values’ and ‘correspondence with factual reality’ that make strategic narratives effective are not unique to narrative only (Jakobsen, 2006, pp. 146-147). Other kinds of message, from contesting opinions could also be persuasive if it is clear, consistent and addresses several counter arguments (Colley, 2016, p. 224).
    Overall, Susan Carruthers presents a very compelling and convincing argument. She argues that embedded journalism is a product of strategic politics by the Pentagon that aim to keep the public focus away from the larger political interpretation of the war. This will eventually result in the public support for the war. The argument is convincing with the support of several literature works. Carruthers however, can still improve her justification by providing the questionable, larger scope of heteropolar media landscape and its applicability with her idea of ‘soda straw’ view. With the participation of more powerful actors through the presence of internet, would the same outcome still be relevant? Would the public still be in favour of the Pentagon and embedded journalists? Lastly, her argument can still be contested by making sense of how embedded journalism might fail to achieve its goal with the possibility of false interpretation due to the existence of other influence and personal experience.

    Beatrice De Graaf, G. D. (2015). Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War. New York: Routledge.
    Calley, T. (2016). Review: Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion, Winning Domestic Support for the Afghan War. Media, War and Conflict, 222-224.
    Carruthers, S. (2011). Television Wars: Vietnam and After. Media at War, 96-141.
    Colley, T. (2016). Review of Strategic Narratives, Public Opinion and War: Winning Domestic Support for the Afghan War. Media War and Conflict, 222-224.
    Cook, R. J. (1995). Review of The Military and the Media: Why the Press Cannot Be Trusted to Cover a War by William V. Kennedy. Journalism History, 48.
    Derian, J. D. (2013, March 13). Conflict in a Heteropolar Media Landscape.
    Drache, D. (2008). Defiant Publics: The Unprecedented Reach of the Global Citizen. Cambridge: Polity Press.
    Fred Fletcher, M. L. (2012). Political Communication in a Changing Media Environment. London: SAGE Publications Ltd.
    Jakobsen, P. V. (2006). Nordic Approaches to Peace Operation. New York: Routledge.
    Kaempf, S. (2013). The mediatisation of war in a transforming global media landscape. Australian Journal of International Affairs, 586-604.
    Morehouse, K. (2015). Review: New Wars, New Media and New War Journalism: Professional and Legal Challenges in Conflict Reporting by Stig A. Nohrstedt and Rune Ottosen. Communication Research Trends, 34-37.
    Robert Hackett, Y. Z. (1998). Sustaining Democracy?: Journalism and the Politics of Objectivity. Canadian Journal of Communication, 1.
    Roselle, L. (2014). Strategic Narrative: A New Means to Understand Soft Power. Media, War and Conflict, 70-84.
    Stig A. Nohrstedt, R. O. (2014). New Wars, New Media and New War Journalism. Göteborg: Nordicom.
    Tuosto, K. (2008). The “Grunt Truth” of Embedded Journalism: The New Media/Military Relationship. Standford Journal of International Relations, 20-31.
    Virilio, P. (1989). War and Cinema. London: Cahiers Du Cinema.

  5. POLS3512 by Nikita Koirala

    The interview with Professor Susan Carruthers and the Vision Mission was a very persuasive explanation about the historical and the contemporary dimensions of the media in terms of the United States (US) and its warfare. The focal case that is being conveyed by Carruthers in this interview was to show the successful control of the media by the Pentagon, while diverting the general public from asking legitimate questions in regards to the various military activities. Since the events occurred during the Vietnam War, the US government has been implementing their best efforts to evade journalist’s involvement in terms of reporting concerning any US military operations, so as to avoid similar errors made during the Vietnam war (Robinson, 2012). Carruthers highlights her argument by examining four areas of discussions; the Media’s involvement during the War in Afghanistan in 2001, the emergence of Embedded Reporting in Iraq during the 2003 and how it differed from the reporting of the Golf War in 1991, results of the embedded journalism and the “Soda Straw View” of the world.

    Carruthers first means of demonstrating her argument can be condensed into one area of interest which is embedded journalism. She discusses the issue on how the Pentagon changed its perception towards media from being a deterrent, to considering it as an asset and how it can be used during the war to provoke a sense of national patriotism towards one’s country. This feat was achieved by humanizing the troops in the warfront rather than letting the journalist report the bigger picture. During this type the Pentagon hailed this method of journalism as being very gutsy and risky where journalists were capturing events occurring live at ground-zero right beside the soldiers. She had stated that during the reporting of the war may footages of the Iraqi desert had been shot, where the journalist had portrayed a form of thrill and action from the war. Carruthers explains that this method of embedded journalism was used during the War in Iraq in 2001, where by doing so the US military remained unquestioned about the war’s legitimacy at the same time they were able to gather and rally support for the home base (Carruthers, 2000).

    Her second justification for her case was based on the “soda straw view of the world”, she described this to be very deep and narrow view which has a primary focus on one thing and in the case of the pentagon it was the daily lives and the danger faced by soldiers in the warzone. She stated that from these narrow opening it was difficult to get the real sense of politics of the war. As a deduction, the “soda straw” theory diverted the public in asking questions in regards to the legitimacy of the war, and larger interpretive message of why the war was happening (Seitz, 2008)

    The proposition assumed by Carruthers is indeed very persuasive where media in warfare has been vastly controlled by the affiliated government. Both the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq was cited as a success story of Pentagons’ excellent media management (Tumber & Palmer, 2004) (Ahmed & Forst, 2005). This can be shown by as Carruthers pointed out that due to the Pentagon’s strategy of showcasing the war led to many news and publication organizations being bias to ‘pro-war’ (Choi, Watt, & Lynch, 2006). The western media was seen as the accurate means of retrieving information, anyone who spoke against it or questioned it was labelled as traitors (Al Nashmi, 2011). For example, when Al Jazeera relayed alternative information gathered from the ‘Eastern point of view’ featuring exclusive first images of war and interviews with Osama Bin Laden, they were labeled as a ‘mouth piece for terrorist’ (Al Nashmi, 2011). Carruthers has managed to exceptionally explain the different dimensions of media in terms of the US warfare, however, there were a few flaws which could be found in the interview.

    First of all, Carruthers made an interesting comment about how the Pentagon had spots for even soft publication which varied from GQ Magazine to MTV for their strategy of embedded journalism. In this section, Carruthers should have further talked about the merge of entertainment media and military slowing forming a form of entertainment that celebrated the Military called militainment (Stahl, 2009). Since the traditional form of propaganda no longer held its place as a dominant explanation, other means of appeal had to be used to connect with the citizens to encourage national pride (Stahl, 2009). These form of militainment describes a political environment by alienation and distraction where they use common ground to form a connection and dazzle into becoming submissive, political disconnected and complacent audience members (Stahl, 2009).

    In the interview there are refutable evidence that can question Carruthers core argument about the Pentagon’s ability to successfully control the media. Despite the interview being shot on 2010, Carruthers had chosen to focus on events that had occurred just a few years back. One of the main point which is able to refute her argument, is the rise of citizen journalist, which she had failed to mention at all, since her focus was mainly in embedded journalism. Due to the advancement of technology in media communication, various different tools of global communications have emerged (Allan & Thorsen, 2009). The invention of mobile phones with camera and the further advancement of the World Wide Web has led to an increase in various citizen’s ability to document first hand events and post them online before the news organization itself (Allan & Thorsen, 2009).

    One of the example is, during the war in Iraq in 2003, there were many journalist showing viewers at home footage of the war, these footages failed to show the politics of war and instead showed the soldiers as an agent liberating the Iraqis. During the same timeframe in Bagdad, there was a blogger named who went under the alias “Salam Pax”. In his blog he had documented an alternative side of the war from a view point of a local living in Iraq. In his blog Salam posted pictures of the streets after the bombing and attested about how it was to live under the effects of bomb-blasts every day (Salam Pax., 2003). The information received from this blog was extremely different to the information that was being circulated through embedded journalists (Carpentier & Cammaerts, 2009). This can be attested to the source in which the information was coming from. While the embedded journalist documented a perspective of heroism and one of a liberator, Salam was documenting another point of view that shows a situation completely different from what the Pentagon is trying to project (Carpentier & Cammaerts, 2009). After his blog became recognized globally, Salam slowly began to incorporate his story with the BBC network, which caused BBC to re-write their editorial guide. This lead to a new alliance between the “professional and the amateurs” (Allan & Thorsen, 2009).

    Carruthers perceptive case of Pentagon’s success in controlling the media through embedded journalism, leading to a ‘soda straw’ view of the conflict, can hardly be of much significant due to transformation of the media landscape. We went from a society of hetropolarity media where we would access information via means of radio transmission and television to a multipolarity media society that has an interactive relationship with the various media organizations (Kaempf, 2013). Our news is also increasingly changing into a hybrid form of media that uses various sources to get news content (Kaempf, 2013). Hence, due to the boom of citizen journalist, the news has taken a hybrid form of accepting “user generated content” which were originally produced by these citizen journalists (Greer & McLaughlin, 2010).

    In conclusion, the interview between Carruthers and the Vision Machine was an insightful approach in relations to the dynamics of the media and the US warfare. It had highlighted the key methods of media categorizations during the early 21st century. However, the interview could have been further improved if it has also focused on the shift of media technology in news reporting. Carruthers was able to highlight her argument in regards to the success of the Pentagon’s strategy of labeling its 2003 embedded journalism as risky and gutsy, when it indeed was not the case. This case would have been much more persuasive if she had given evidence towards what made her contradict the Pentagon’s description of their media strategy. Lastly, albeit the interview being shot in 2010, Carruthers has failed to mention the recent shift of the media landscape from hetropolar media to multipolar media where the public has more option to retrieve different reporting of news. Never the less, it was still able to provide structured and credible perspective on the media evolution and use of media in warfare.


    Ahmed. A. & Forst, B. (2005). After terror. Cambridge: Polity Press.

    Al Nashmi, E. (2011). Aljazeera on YouTube™: A credible source in the United States?. University of Florida.

    Allan, S. & Thorsen, E. (2009). Citizen journalism (pp. 1-10). New York: Peter Lang.

    Berenger, R. (2004). Global media go to war. Spokane, Wash.: Marquette Books.

    Carpentier, N. & Cammaerts, B. (2009). Blogging the 2003 Iraq War: Challenging the Ideological Model of War and Mainstream Journalism?. Observatorio (OBS*), 3(2), 1-23.

    Carruthers, S. (2000). The media at war (pp. 209-240). New York: St. Martin’s Press.

    Choi, J., Watt, J., & Lynch, M. (2006). Perceptions of News Credibility about the War in Iraq: Why War Opponents Perceived the Internet as the Most Credible Medium. Journal Of Computer-Mediated Communication, 12(1), 209-229.

    Greer, C. & McLaughlin, E. (2010). We Predict a Riot?: Public Order Policing, New Media Environments and the Rise of the Citizen Journalist. British Journal Of Criminology, 50(6), 1041-1059. http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/bjc/azq039

    Kaempf, S. (2013). The mediatisation of war in a transforming global media landscape. Australian Journal Of International Affairs, 67(5), 586-604. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10357718.2013.817527

    Robinson, P. (2012). News Media and War. In The Sage Handbook of Political Communication. London: Sage Publication Limited
    Salam Pax.,. (2003). The Baghdad Blog. Melbourne, Australia: Text Pub.

    Seitz, D. (2008). War and Truth. Film & History: An Interdisciplinary Journal Of Film And Television Studies, 38(2), 68-71. http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/flm.0.0033

    Stahl, R. (2009). Militainment, Inc. (pp. 20-48). New York: Rutledge.

    Tumber, H. & Palmer, J. (2004). Media at war. London: Sage Publications.

  6. In her interview with the Vision Machine, Susan Carruthers discussed about the evolution of media in United States warfare from the context of its historical and modern dimensions. She framed her points into four different parts which consisted of the Media in Afghanistan 2001; Media in Iraq 2003; the Coverage Produced by Embedded Journalism as well as the concept of the ‘Soda Straw View of the World’. Specifically, Carruthers’s argument focused on the Pentagon’s role in managing the US media at war and its outcomes. Carruthers starts her discussion by underlining the change in media management after the events of September 11 which was primarily caused by the rise in excessive patriotism among American citizens as well as the state. This was certainly advantageous to the Pentagon in managing the media as journalists were naturally aware of the do’s and don’ts in covering the war in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the exclusion of embedded journalists from the military in Afghanistan was seen as a preventive measure from jeopardizing operational security. Nevertheless, the Iraq war in 2003 saw a drastic change in media coverage of the war with the embedding of journalists among troops by the Pentagon. Indeed, the Pentagon’s risky intentions of embedding journalists in war were nothing more than to achieve its governing ideology of bridging an emotional link between the soldiers at war and the people at home. Despite the increase in the sense of identification among viewers in regards to liveness of the footage on war, the coverage produced by the embedded reporters in Iraq were seen to be in favor of the US as the coverage was only limited to images of American troops who were mostly in danger and against the occupation force. This eventually led to the emergence of a ‘soda straw view of the world’ which was pursued by the Pentagon with the vision that the viewers at home would be drifted away from the more important aspects of the war such as its legitimacy and the politics behind it.

    Similarly, scholars have seen to share the same ideas as Carruthers which makes her argument convincing to the audience. Rid and Hecker claimed that military leaders considered the advanced flow of public information as a major obstacle in war due to journalists’ inability to comprehend the business of warfare; they jeopardize operational security by unintentionally exposing secrets which would be beneficial for the adversary and also the horrific images of fatalities and accidental mistakes weakened public resolve which made it even harder to combat and win wars (2009: 4). For example, the aerial bombings during ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ took the life of 5000 Afghans civilians as well as 20 000 others who died of indirect effects of the bombing. However, none of these events seemed to be covered on the news in order to conceal the real and gruesome state of the war which certainly conforms with the Pentagon’s desire to the manipulate the news from the front (Thussu and Freedman 2003:117). The pentagon was focused on creating trust between the American troops and the embedded journalists who were in Iraq to report on the soldiers and war itself (Tumber and Palmer 2004: 61). The pentagon’s planners viewed the embedded media program as a tool to educate the public in which TV consumers where able to decide for themselves as to whether they like or disliked a particular war or even if they were in favor of the American troops fighting in war (Rid 2007: 128). In relation, this approach of war reporting was acknowledged to have earned the confidence and faith of the American people such that its success led to an increase in responsibility for both the media and military to guarantee an ongoing sense of righteousness in reporting the war (Tumber and Palmer 2004: 61 as cited in CSL 2003). Nevertheless, the depiction of the 2003 Iraq War was still blurred together by the news media with their delivery of the war as such that the Bush Administration was also well informed that the reality of the war could be founded for the US media instead of being discovered by the US media (Hoskins and O’Loughlin 2010: 64). Correspondingly, the portrayal of the Iraq War solely depended on what the media had shown the public via the embedded journalists whom had to rely upon their experiences from previous wars or information that the audience were already aware of in order to make the war understandable to the audience (Hoskins and O’Loughlin 2010: 64).

    However, Carruthers argument is not without its limitations as there were minor counter-evidence that would lead us think otherwise. For instance, post September 11 has seen a wider selection of discourses and mediums in which a citizen could be virtually part of the action in war which eventually led to a rise in viewers functioning role in viewership from surfing, pushing buttons to shaping a particular scene (Stahl 2010: 21). Moreover, the 21st century has seen an important change in communication media with the emergence of the internet and digitization besides the incorporation of the World Wide Web which is also known as Web 2.0 (Macnamara 2013: 9). Web users are able to be part of chat rooms while interacting with one another besides having a rather easy excess to encyclopedic information (Han 2012: 24). This showed that the public were not tied as a whole to the concept of ‘the Soda Straw View of the World’ as there were other mediums in which the public could depend on in obtaining information regarding the war. Furthermore, the public did not have to depend solely on the news coverage by local embedded reporters as they could easily make comparisons among various media outlets regarding their coverage on war by simply surfing the net. Despite the concerns that embedding would result in a “soda-straw-view-effect” in which a reporter would have a restricted vision of the war similarly like viewing the world through a soda straw, there were reports claiming that the press actually made efforts to prevent such problems from happening by combining reports from different sources such as from official briefings, multiple embedded journalists as well other news outlets in order to create a wider picture of the war (Paul and Kim 2005: 57).

    Thus, Carruthers’s argument could have been strengthened if she were to include some of the following ideas. Firstly, Carruthers could have discussed the relevance of the ‘soda straw effect’ in regards to media at war in the 21st century. Despite acknowledging the major transformations and development of technology and media, she could emphasize that the public could still solely believe the portrayal of war on their local media due to endless spread of patriotic and nationalist propaganda by the state government as well as the censorship imposed on most media outlets in democratic countries. For instance, the Department of Defence in democratic countries such as the US, Australia and the UK were seen using social media such as YouTube to gain the public’s support by showing an overview of the war from a soldier’s perspective in Operation Iraqi Freedom (Carruthers 2011:247). Besides that, she mentioned that the American military had finally conceded to the embedding of journalists in war which was exclusively seen in the 2003 Iraq War. However, she only gave a brief explanation as to why there was a sudden change in the management of media in war from the total exclusion of journalists in the Afghanistan War to an enormous amount of embedded journalists in the Iraq war. Carruthers could have laid out the reasons behind such changes in more depth by also including comparisons from the Vietnam War. For instance, the opposition of the public towards the Vietnam War expanded as the media continued questioning the legitimacy of the war in various news coverage (Hallin 1984: 22). This was because the media grew into a body that obtained its own information instead of depending on second-hand messages which led to a more critical coverage of the United States policy in Vietnam (Phinney 2011: 1). Overlooking the rather negative consequences of having the media cover the war in Vietnam as well as Afghanistan, discussing the reasons behind such change in media management would have made her argument stronger.

    As a conclusion, despite some minor counter evidence such as the emergence of Web 2.0 and the relevance of the ‘soda straw effect’ in the 21st century, Carruthers was still able to present a convincing piece on the nature of the Pentagon in managing the US media at war in response to its national needs.


    Carruthers, Susan L. The Media at War / Susan L. Carruthers. 2nd ed. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire ; New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

    Hallin, Daniel C. “The Media, the War in Vietnam, and Political Support: A Critique of the Thesis of an Oppositional Media.” The Journal of Politics 46, no. 1 (1984): 2-24.

    Hoskins, Andrew, and Ben O’Loughlin. War and Media the Emergence of Diffused War / Andrew Hoskins and Ben O’Loughlin. Cambridge, UK ; Malden, MA: Polity Press, 2010.

    Macnamara, Jim. The 21st Century Media Revolution. 2nd ed. Emergent Communication Practices, 2013.

    Paul, Christopher, and James J. Kim. Reporters on the Battlefield : The Embedded Press System in Historical Context / Christopher Paul, James J. Kim. Santa Monica, CA: RAND, 2004.

    Phinney, Jacqueline. “Hallin, Daniel C. “The Media, the War in Vietnam, and Political Support: A Critique of the Thesis of an Oppositional Media.” The Journal of Politics 46, No. 1 (1984): 2-24.” Dalhousie Journal of Interdisciplinary Management 7, no. 1 (2011).

    Rid, Thomas, and Marc. Hecker. War 2.0 : Irregular Warfare in the Information Age / Thomas Rid and Marc Hecker. Westport, Conn.: Praeger Security International, 2009.

    Rid, Thomas. War and Media Operations : The U.S. Military and the Press from Vietnam to Iraq / Thomas Rid. Cass Military Studies. London ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2007.

    Stahl, Roger. Militainment, Inc. : War, Media, and Popular Culture / Roger Stahl. New York: Routledge, 2010.

    Thussu, Daya Kishan., and Des Freedman. War and the Media Reporting Conflict 24/7 / Edited by Daya Kishan Thussu and Des Freedman. London: SAGE, 2003.

    Tumber, Jerry., and Howard. Palmer. Media at War The Iraq Crisis. London: SAGE Publications, 2004.


    Professor Susan Curruthers of Rutgers University talked with The Vision Machine in 2010 regarding the historical and contemporary dimensions of the media in United States (US) warfare (‘innerview’ available at: http://thevisionmachine.com/2013/03/innerview-with-susan-carruthers-media-and-us-warfare/). The ‘innerview’ consists of four segments, that is: ‘The Media in Afghanistan, 2001’; ‘The Media in Iraq, 2003: How Embedded Reporting Differed from the Reporting of the Gulf War’; ‘What coverage did embedded journalism produce?’; and ‘A soda straw view of the world.’ This blog will critically engage with each segment of the innerview in turn before offering a response.

    The Media in Afghanistan, 2001
    As noted by Carruthers, by the time the US launched Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) in Afghanistan (2002), the technology boom – that enabled journalists to transport ‘high-tech’ audio-visual devices in nothing larger than a briefcase – was in full swing. This lead to a realisation by the US Department of Defence that state control over the media was becoming near on impossible – at least physically.

    According to Carruthers however, with respect to OEF, the Pentagon had some major advantages for keeping the media at bay. As she highlights, state control over the media is not simply a physical/logistical issue but is highly dependent on the “political and ideological” circumstances under which war reporting occurs.

    A highly mobilised and patriotic US citizenry following 9/11 (Stahl 2010: 29) lead to a degree of self-awareness amongst the media regarding what constituted appropriate reporting; effectively ‘keeping a lid’ on news reports that contradicted the official war narrative (Buchanan 2011: 102). In a climate of hyper-nationalism and buttressed by a ‘support the troops’ rhetoric from the Bush administration (Stahl 2010: 29) media outlets were undoubtedly risk averse towards the publication of anything that may be conceived as an “anti-war statement;” hence we witnessed media self-censorship on-screen and in print (Stahl 2010: 43).

    In addition, the nature of the conflict in Afghanistan, that is, a US reliance on special operations and aerial attacks, further provided the Pentagon with an excuse for keeping the media at ‘arms length’ – ‘you can’t report on special forces’ as it poses a risk to operational and strategic integrity (Buchanan 2011: 114; Carruthers 2013).

    The Media in Iraq, 2003: How Embedded Reporting Differed from the Reporting of the Gulf War
    In this segment Curruthers discusses the evolution of embedded journalism from the Gulf War (1990-1991) to the Iraq War (2003).

    During the Gulf War the ‘pooling system,’ which elected reporters to shadow front line troops, only called for US, British and French reporters to embed alongside troops (Carruthers 2013). In contrast, the ‘pooling system’ of the Iraq War (2003), saw a significant broadening of the invitation. Embedded reporters were no longer selected on the basis of nationality. Nor did they represent the dominant mainstream media outlets. Resultantly the embedded media in Iraq existed on a far larger scale and presented their reports to a much broader audience (Carruthers 2013).

    Reporters who had been excluded from the ‘action’ during the Gulf War were now welcomed by the Pentagon (Carruthers 2013); hence we saw journalists from atypical ‘news’ outlets (such as ‘Men’s Health’ and MTV) allowed access to front line combat (Carruthers 2013). From the Pentagon’s perspective, by inviting an array of diverse media outlets (such as ‘Men’s Health’) to witness war those who didn’t consume the news on a daily basis could be ‘roped in’ to the US war effort via magazines (and other publications) that primarily dealt with other topics (Carruthers 2013).

    This was a risky enterprise for the Pentagon however, as consumers of magazines such as ‘Men’s Health,’ who may have turned a blind eye to the War in Iraq (and its questionable legitimacy) (Calabrese 2005: 155) now ‘tuned in’, potentially causing such readers to raise questions regarding the wars legitimacy which the Pentagon was desperate to avoid (Calabrese 2005: 156-157).

    Nevertheless the Pentagon believed that inviting a host of reporters from a diverse range of media genres would serve to forge the ‘emotional connective bond’ between the armed forces and those at home (Carruthers 2013).

    What coverage did embedded journalism produce?
    Part of the ‘thrill’ of the media coverage from Iraq, according to Carruthers, was its 24/7 rolling ‘liveness‘ (2013). The audience was privy to what was happening on the ground in ‘real time.’ According to Carruthers this heightens a sense of identification with the troops and the journalists that accompany them, i.e. if anything untoward were to occur to them, it would play out in front of a live audience (Carruthers 2013).

    Added to this was the mediatised representation of coalition troops in a state of constant beleaguerment (Carruthers 2013). From such a viewpoint US and coalition forces were not represented, as indeed they were – an occupying force that were agents of harm themselves but victims of Iraqi hostility (Carruthers 2013). Hence should something untoward happen to them it is due to an Iraq that is not responding appropriately to their presence and their ‘altruistic’ intentions (Carruthers 2013).

    A soda straw view of the world
    According to Carruthers the Pentagon’s allowance of embedded reporting in Iraq (2003) was considered a risky endeavour because live coverage of the war may expose citizens to images they had not witnessed before played out in ‘real time’ (2013). In many ways however, the risk portrayed by the Pentagon was exaggerated. Firstly, the Pentagon believed the Iraq War would be swift and clinical hence circumnavigating the US aversion to death that characterised the Vietnam War (Der Derian 2009: 183).

    Additionally what the Pentagon wanted and indeed got from embedded journalism was what Curruthers calls a ‘soda-straw view of the world’ (2013). That is, a view of the conflict that is ‘very deep yet very narrow’ (Carruthers 2013). As noted by Carruthers what the public received from the embedded reporting of Iraq was a monotonous view of US military convoys hurtling through the Iraqi desert (2013) without any connection regarding ‘why’ they were doing so. As such, the soda straw view of the war obscured the ‘politics’ of the Iraq War and diverted audience attention from the question of ‘why we fight’ to a condition of ‘we fight’ (Stahl 2010: 31).

    A Response
    In light of the existing literature there is little to critique in Carruthers’ innerview with The Vision Machine (2013). Carruthers herself appears critical of the Pentagon’s means for controlling the media apparatus from Grenada to OEF to the Iraq War of 2003.

    Moving forward (as technology advances through the internet and camera-phones evolve) it will become increasingly more difficult for the Pentagon to control the media as it pleases, a point that Curruthers makes in the first segment. Pentagon collaboration with media outlets will without doubt become more crucial to the military as technology progresses (Stahl 2010: 23). A key point that Carruthers could have addressed is the Pentagon has also largely benefited from the oligopolised landscape of the mainstream media in the US (Stahl 2010: 23). However, the rise of alternative media platforms through ‘YouTube’ and ‘Facebook’ (as examples) will undoubtedly put pressure on the “military-media” complex that currently exists (c.f. Stahl 2010: 25).

    Despite Carruthers critique of certain aspects of embedded journalism and ‘the soda straw view of the world’ it creates, Neelamalar and Viswanathan note that many embedded journalists in Iraq were able to produce ‘raw’ stories that brought the ghastliness of conflict into US living rooms (2003: 158). In addition reports from embedded reporters occasionally contradicted the official (US government) narrative of events (Neelamalar and Viswanathan 2003: 159). Furthermore, a study conducted by the ‘Project for Excellence in Journalism’ concluded that Americans were far better served by the embedding system of Iraq in comparison to the ‘limited’ press pools of The Gulf War (Neelamalar and Viswanathan 2003: 159). Despite the flaws of embedded journalism (noted by Carruthers), as Alex Jones, of the ‘Joan Shorenstein Centre on the Press, Politics and Public policy,’ notes “you are likely to get more truth from a reporter with a worm’s eye view (soda straw view) than from a Tommy Franks briefing” (Neelamalar and Viswanathan 2003: 159).

    Despite the imperfections of embedded journalism there are certainly some benefits that Carruthers fails to discuss. While it would be a mistake to rely solely on embedded war reporting in a quest for the ‘truth,’ as it relates to contemporary warfare, it has had some success at obtaining war footage and bringing it into the living rooms of the US (Neelamalar and Viswanathan 2003: 159). As such, my major critique regarding the innerview with Susan Carruthers is her complete neglect of some of the benefits embedded journalism provides and the absence of a suggestion for how the media can be more appropriately incorporated into warfare in order to present a more accurate reality.

    Buchanan, Paul. 2011. ‘Facilitated News as Controlled Information Flows: The Origins, Rationale and Dilemmas of ‘Embedded’ Journalism’. Pacific Journalism Review 17(1): 102-118.
    Calabrese, Andrew. 2005. ‘Casus Belli: U.S. Media and the Justification of the Iraq War’. Television and New Media 6(2): 153-175.
    Carruthers, Susan. 2013. ‘Innerview: Susan Carruthers’. The Vision Machine: Media, War, Peace. Accessed 28 October 2016. Available at http://thevisionmachine.com/2013/03/innerview-with-susan-carruthers-media-and-us-warfare/.
    Der Derian, James. 2009. Virtuous War: Mapping the Military-Industrial-Media-Entertainment Network. New York: Routledge.
    Neelamalar, M. and D. Viswanathan. 2003. ‘Roundtable’. Media Asia 30(3): 154-160.
    Stahl, Roger. 2010. Militainment Inc.: War, Media, and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.

  8. Critical Review: Innerview with Susan Carruthers
    By Gabriella Crow (POLS3512)

    In 2010 Seb Kaempf and Peter Mantello conducted an ‘innerview’ with Professor Susan Carruthers, Professor of History at Rutgers University, author of Media at War and an expert in the field of media representations of war and the way in which these are received. Addressing the Iraq War, Carruthers hypothesises that the Pentagon successfully utilised the transformed media landscape by instituting a program of embedded journalism which invited the previously inattentive public to become intimately involved the war while simultaneously diverting their attention from the overarching purpose of the war. Carruthers constructs this hypothesis first by describing the media strategy employed by the Pentagon in Afghanistan, akin to the media blackout of Grenada, and then by introducing the embedded journalism program in direct contrast to the ‘pooling system’ employed in the Gulf War. A primary difference she addresses was the multiplication and diversification of journalists that were embedded, which signalled a departure from the hegemony of the media conglomerates that previously dominated news cycles. More significantly, Carruthers addresses coverage in Iraq which focussed almost exclusively on life in the military unit and allowed viewers to experience the thrill of war vicariously, providing a ‘rich and deep’ soda straw view of the war which effectively precluded formation of a cohesive overall assessment of the war.

    An expert in her field, Carruthers’ arguments are undoubtedly convincing and have largely been corroborated in the academic literature. Her view arguably represents the predominant explanation of the causes, effects and strategies behind the embedded journalism program. For example, there is a body of work which supports the proposition that embedded journalists in Iraq were compelled to present favourable coverage by virtue of their position. Linder (2009) proposes that journalists fell victim to Stockholm Syndrome, or more convincingly the process of ‘socialisation’ described by Erving Goffman, where the experience of being separated from society and living a unique situation resulted in participants leading an ‘enclosed, formally administered round life’ and publishing in accordance with the interests and views of that group. Such publication was generally favourable to the State, and indeed a symbiotic relationship developed between the Pentagon and embedded journalists whereby the Pentagon was provided with a ‘sympathetic and de-contextualised version of events’ which assisted in ensuring maintenance of public support (Buchanan 2011). In return, the embedded journalists gained access to the front row seats they had been clamouring for throughout previous engagements, which in turn leant legitimacy and authority to their narratives (Tumber & Palmer 2001; Rid 2007). These overlapping interests predicated the success of the embedded program (Rid 2007; Buchanan 2011). Carruthers’ subsequent explanation of the ‘soda straw view’ is also well founded in the academic literature. For example, her argument is reiterated by Tumber and Palmer (2001) who argue the Pentagon’s success was dependent upon the program’s ability to simultaneously allow the public to truly understand the experience of war, while making it impossible to corroborate the entirety of the 24 hour news cycle and the multitude soda straw views into one cohesive narrative of the war. In circumstances where embedded reporting constituted two thirds of the coverage of the Iraq War, Carruthers concludes that the program was successful in achieving the Pentagon’s objectives (Linder 2009).

    In light of extensive academic support, Carruthers’ narrative cannot be directly discounted. However, her ‘innerview’ can be critiqued on the basis of its limited scope. Whether by choice or by filming restraints, Carruthers chose to limit her assessment to a discussion of embedded journalism, and by doing so bypassed several opportunities to engage in a more nuanced discussion of the Pentagon’s media strategy and its success or failure relative to the heteropolar media landscape in which it operated. Carruthers refers to the changed media landscape initially by noting that the Pentagon faced challenges in terms of constraining war reporting in the new environment, and subsequently when discussing the multiplication and diversification of journalists and media outlets involved in the embedded program. Carruthers fails to engage substantially with the fundamental shift from the multipolarity of the 20th century to the heteropolarity of the 21st century, in which the distinction between producer and receiver eroded completely, allowing for the rise of a plurality of viewpoints and mediums deviating from the state sanctioned plotline (Kaempf 2013; Stahl 2010). An explanation of the changes to the media landscape necessarily predicates discussion regarding the extent to which the Pentagon successfully or unsuccessfully maintained their narrative of the Iraq War.

    In this regard, Carruthers all but silences the plethora of voices that the transformed media landscape produces by choosing to limit the discussion. As noted above, embedded journalists did produce a substantial amount of the Iraq coverage, however the transformed media landscape gave unprecedented power to parties such as the citizen journalist and the soldier journalist. It should be noted that there were several non-embedded journalists stationed in Baghdad and elsewhere during the Iraq War that also leant their voices to the narrative, who in lieu of the ‘deep and rich’ experience of embedding were able to introduce information regarding the Iraqis (Linder 2009; Aday & Livingston 2015). However more notable is Carruthers’ failure to discuss the rise of citizen journalism, where the previously unaffected viewer engages with the war narrative and contributes actively to the analysis of the war effort (Gillmor 2004). The citizen journalist threatens the state sanctioned narrative that is perpetuated by the soda stream view by their ability to utilise new media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and blogs to disseminate potentially damaging information which is unmediated and uncensored by the former gatekeepers (Kaempf 2013; Meraz 209; Banham 2013). Similar threats arise from within the ranks, where soldiers similarly have the agency to disseminate their own information to fill the perceived gaps in the official military narrative (Anden-Papadopolous 2009). A particularly prolific example is the rise of ‘milblogs’ which gained momentum as authoritative and legitimate sources of information on much the same grounds as embedded journalists: firsthand experience of the war (Anden-Papadopolous 2009; Carruthers 2011). This development is particularly threatening in circumstances where the soldiers post disturbing and graphic imagery, of the type the Pentagon has taken great care to erase from the public forum. The growth of citizen journalism and soldier journalism has allowed deviation from and interaction with a variety of alternative narratives to the detriment of the state actor (Carruthers 2011). By failing to engage with these alternate narratives, Carruthers adheres to a linear explanation and misses out on exploring the nuances of the media strategy employed in Iraq. Closely connected to this, is Carruthers’ failure to explore the state narrative that the Pentagon was attempting to legitimise. Extensive academic work has been done on the US Government’s prolonged development and employment of the ‘Clean War’ narrative, predicated on the perceived loss of the Vietnam War due to graphic imagery which caused public support to wane (Rid and Hecker, 2009; Stahl 2010). As a result, the Pentagon has gone to extensive lengths to recalibrate the public perception of the war by eliminating the dead and sanitising the experience (Tumber & Palmer 2001; Aday & Livingston 2015). The embedded program is based on the perpetuation of the Clean War narrative, by redirecting public attention to the excitement, thrill and reality of coverage. Elaboration on the Clean War narrative would have clarified the purpose of embedded journalism with greater specificity.

    Carruthers successfully argues the previously inattentive public became intimately involved the war while simultaneously became separated from the overarching purpose of the war, a fact which supports the Clean War. This discussion could have led to an exploration of the rise of militainment. As Carruthers described, embedded journalism came to emulate reality television by focussing on individualistic narratives through which the viewer could participate vicariously (Stahl 2010). However, Carruthers could have extended her discussion to consider the popularity of war themed movies and video games and other aspects of militainment that serves to further depoliticise the war by engaging the citizen as a participant, directing focus to the fact that there is a war and not why it is occurring (Stahl 2010).
    In conclusion, although Carruthers initial hypothesis was thoroughly convincing and representative of predominant academic thought on the subject of embedded journalism, in discussing the media strategy of the US during the Iraq War Carruthers failed to seize a number of opportunities to expand upon her work and deliver a more nuanced and specific assessment.

    Reference List
    Aday, Sean & Robert M Entman & Steven Livingston (2012). ‘Chapter 25: Media, Power and US Forign Policy’ in News, Media and War pp.327-342
    Anden-Papadopoulos, K (2009) ‘Body Horror on the Internet: US Soldiers Recording the War in Iraq and Afghanistan’ Media, Culture and Society 31(6): 921 – 938.
    Banham, Cynthia. 2013. ‘Legitimising War in a Changing Media Landscape’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 605-620.
    Buchanan, Paul. 2011. ‘Facilitated News as Controlled Information Flows: The Origins, Rationale and Dilemmas of ‘Embedded’ Journalism’. Pacific Journalism Review 17(1): 102-118.
    Carruthers, Susan L (2011) The Media at War (2nd Ed.) New York: Palgrave McMillan
    Gillmor, Dan. ‘We the Media: The Rise of the Citizen Journalists’. National Civic Review. 2004. (93.3):58-63
    Kaempf. Sebastian. 2013. ‘The Mediatisation of War in a Transforming Global Media Landscape’. Australian Journal of International Affairs 67(5): 586-604.
    Lindner, Andrew. 2009. ‘Among the Troops: Seeing the Iraq War Through Three Journalistic Vantage Points’. Social Problems 56(1): 21.
    Meraz, Sharon. 2009. ‘Is there an Elite? Traditional Media to Social Media Agenda Setting Influence in Blog Networks’. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 14(1): 682-707.
    Rid, Thomas and Marc Hecker. 2009. War 2.0: Irregular Warfare in the Information Age. Westport: Praeger.
    Rid, Thomas. War and Media Operations : The U.S. Military and the Press from Vietnam to Iraq / Thomas Rid. Cass Military Studies. London ; New York, NY: Routledge, 2007.
    Stahl, Roger. 2010. Militainment, Inc.: War, Media and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge.
    Tumber, Howard and Jerry Palmer. 2004. Media at War: The Iraq Crisis. Sage Publications: London.

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