The Popular Press in Britain, 1896 to the present
Chapter 1: War
War provides the most dramatic, intense and urgent news stories of all. It imperils the lives of citizens and the security of nations; after the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, it seemed to threaten the very existence of the human race. Because of the stakes involved, though, wars are also the hardest stories to cover. Information becomes a priceless commodity, which the state scrutinises, manages, restricts and distorts. Reporters operate in dangerous and uncertain conditions, facing the deeply entrenched suspicion and hostility of military authorities whose default position is secrecy. Journalism is never more inaccurate, deceptive and dubious than during wartime.
The popular press has frequently been accused of retailing a toxic mixture of belligerence, jingoism and myopia in their coverage of international affairs and military conflict. Critics of the Daily Mail argued that by irresponsibly stoking anti-German sentiment, the paper actually helped to create the conditions which enabled conflict to break out in 1914. ‘Next to the Kaiser,’ wrote the esteemed liberal editor and journalist A. G. Gardiner, ‘Lord Northcliffe has done more than any other living man to bring about the war.’ Similar charges had been levelled at Hearst and Pulitzer’s newspapers in the United States in the run-up to the Spanish-American war of 1898. War reporters are commonly portrayed as state lackeys, slavishly following the official agenda rather than informing readers about the grim realities of war. The soldier-poets of the Great...
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