Accueil > Actions pluridisciplinaires > TPE européens en anglais > VVW NEWS


lundi 8 août 2011 par Joëlle Mirabaud

TPE européen par Marie VANDAME, Stephanie VINOT, Aude WILS.

PART 1 : The Watergate
PART 2 : The Vietnam War
PART 3 : The War in Iraq

We are interested in current issues, particularly in journalism and in the working conditions of reporters in the world. Moreover, the media is considered as the fourth power - behind the executive, legislative and judiciary ones. At first, we wanted to broach a lot of different aspects of the press, but we realized that it was such a huge theme that we eventually had to direct and limit our searches. At that moment, a journalist from RFI (the International French Radio) was killed in the exercise of his duties in Ivory Coast. It made us choose to speak about the role of the press in time of crisis.
We found this subject interesting, given that the journalists’ situation has always evolved notably during the twentieth century. Some famous events acted a lot on this situation, on the role of the press, and on its freedom. So we decided to study the Watergate scandal which was the most striking example of the power of press ; then the Vietnam war, a turning point in the way to cover the war ; and finally, the war in Iraq, which showed the aftermaths of the media’s evolution.


The word especially refers to the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C but it’s also a general term used to describe the complex political scandal that took place in the USA between 1972 and 1974 and that’s what we’re going to study.

The story of a scandal :
On June 17th, 1972, five "Burglars" (Gonzalez, Martinez, Barker, McCord and Sturgis) broke into the Democratic Party’s National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office building. Frank Wills, a security guard gave the alert ; the burglars were arrested. There began the most incredible political scandal, implying spying, lies, nonsense, and that revealed constitutional problems...

On September 15th, 1972, the burglars were indicted, as well as G. Gordon Liddy (chief operative for the burglars) and E. Howard Hunt (man from Nixon’s inner circle). They were sentenced to prison by Judge John J. Sirica except James McCord because he mentioned pressures brought on the burglars to make them keep silent.

On October, 10th, 1972, the Washington Post newspaper revealed that the Committee to Re-elect the President (C.R.P) had illicitly paid out money to a political spying web. It immediately implied that the burglars were tied closely to the C.R.P and the Central Intelligence Agency (C.I.A). At that moment, some of Nixon’s aides began talking to federal prosecutors. The defection of aides such as Jeb Stuart Magruder, assistant to C.R.P director John N. Mitchell, quickly implied others in Nixon’s inner circle.

On February 7th, 1973, The Senate unanimously established a board of inquiry headed by Senator San Ervin. Soon, Nixon announced the resignations of H. R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman (two of his closest advisors) as well as the dismissal of John W. Dean, his counsel. The Leaders of the inquiry, which intensified, were Judge Sirica, reporters of the Washington Post, the Ervin committee and Archibald Cox who entered the scandal in May 1973 as a special prosecutor.

A few months later, former White House staff member Alexander Butterfield revealed president Nixon had secretly tape-recorded conversations in offices. A. Cox and the Ervin committee tried then to obtain some tapes but Nixon, citing the ’Executive Privilege’ refused to give them (here we find the constitutional problem : Nixon couldn’t keep the tapes because the Watergate was a criminal matter and so he couldn’t cite the Executive Privilege). Moreover Nixon wanted to have Cox fired ; as Elliot L. Richardson refused as well as William Ruckelshaus, the former resigned and the latter got fired. Then, Nixon put one of his men instead (Robert H. Bork) and finally got Cox fired. The "Saturday night massacre" (that evening is called so because of the events that happened) revealed that president Nixon had much more to hide than anyone expected.

Leon Jaworski replaced Cox as special prosecutor and he kept asking for the tapes ; facing the same refusal, on March 1st, 1974, seven men were indicted including Haldeman, Charles Colson, Ehrlichman and Mitchell (Nixon’s inner circle) for conspiracy to obstruct justice.

On April, 30th, 1974, the president edited writings about conversations about the Watergate. Judge Sirica was not satisfied and wanted additional tapes ; when Nixon refused, The Supreme Court was to rule against him (a president can hold national security material but Watergate is a criminal matter i.e. constitutional problem).

On July, 1974, from the 27th to the 30th, the Judiciary House committee disclosed evidence of the White House illegal activities and recommended that Nixon be impeached on three charges :
- Obstruction of justice
- Abuse of presidential powers
- Impediment to the impeachment process by defying committee subpoenas.

On August 5th, 1974, Nixon gave his tapes that showed his involvement in the Watergate affair. It destroyed his congressional support and for that reason, among others, Richard Nixon, on August 9th, 1974 became the first US president to resign.

The role of the Washington Post’s reporters :
Graham, Woodward, Bernstein, and Bradlee these names are quite famous as far as the Watergate scandal is concerned. These are the names of the Washington Post’s reporters who investigated for months to obtain the truth in this occurrence. When the links between the White House and the burglars became evident, and in spite of sensational revelations, a lot of medias lost interest in the story very quickly and though The Washington Post covered the story, nobody was thrilled with it at first.

Two relatively inexperienced reporters were assigned to cover the story before it was decided to ’dig’ deeper this strange occurrence. But most newspapers accepted the claim of the White House Press Secretary that the incident was a third-rate burglary. So most of the press waited for more evidence to come in before they ran the story, but what is strange is that only the two reporters made a serious effort to find more. Indeed, although Nixon claimed that press was harassing him whatever he did and in spite of the President’s high popularity in those days, The Washington Post’s reporters continued their investigations. And they continued over and over again until they got the truth, making the president resign.

According to Katharine Graham (former publisher of the Washington Post), the Watergate was ’the most important occurrence in [her] working life’. And to Ben Bradlee (executive editor), the 26-months scandal is remembered as ’the most intense moment in all [his] life’. We can mention there is a film that deals with the Watergate story seen from the side of two reporters of the Washington Post All The President’s men. Here you can find an interpretation of Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward’s roles (by Dustin Hoffman and Robert Redford).

White House attempts to stop investigations :
We can now list a few things the White House (in the person of the president but also in that of others’) did to try to stop the investigations. Nixon got several important persons fired so as to restrain the investigations, that is the thing that we have seen most in this affair. But he also hid a lot of proofs (the recorded tapes among others)...he lied, going as far as claiming the press harassed him referring to the investigations led by the Washington Post’s reporters. Nixon also used the CIA to put pressure on the burglars and the reporters ; in fact, he took advantage of his presidential powers during the whole affair.

As a conclusion, I will say that the Watergate scandal is one of the most well known scandals in the world and that it is a perfect example of the power of the press. Indeed, in that story, using the freedom they had to get information, the press really fulfilled its role : to inform the population and represent public opinion in spite of the difficult conditions and in spite of the pressures exerted by powerful people, among whom Nixon himself who indeed hid each thing they were looking for.

Part 2 : THE VIETNAM WAR : 1964 - 1973

From 1964 to 1973, the Vietnam War was a turning point in the history of the press. It was a time when journalists had a complete liberty to act on the army ground, and broadcast information about the war. It was also the first time that a government had to stop the war because of the public opinion.

Soldiers and the media : tense relationships
In each conflict, there are 3 main elements : the government, the army, and the media. Each one needs the others, but very often, they do not have the same priorities, and the same motivations. That is why their relations can be tense.
According to Jamie Shea, Nato’s spokesperson after the conflict in Kosovo1 (1998) "winning the media campaign is as important as defeating on the army ground… The press is not an option but it is a main factor." Indeed, the press is so important because it’s the only way for people to have an access to information.
When a government has to make an important decision, they use the media to announce it, and to be assured of the public support.
Media and military priorities are very often conflicting. In Max Hastings’ opinion, a British war reporter, soldiers and media are "a badly-matched couple". They are a couple because, during a war, they always work together, but "badly-matched" because they never agree with the other. For example, soldiers are very well organized and disciplined, unlike journalists. The army prefers not to give information too early, in order to be sure that it won’t be a danger for their operations, whereas journalists want to broadcast as quickly as possible. Moreover, soldiers give a great importance to the control of information, unlike journalists who want to say everything to the whole world. Important tensions were felt during the Vietnam War because reports by journalists led public opinion against the army. In 1975, Marshall McLuhan, an English teacher, then a writer) noticed that the war hadn’t been lost on the army ground but in American families !

Edith Lederer joined The Associated Press in 1966. When she was sent to Saigon in 1972, Lederer became the Associated Press’ first female resident correspondent in Vietnam, where she spent nine months.
Describe the control of the military : "I do believe that censorship is justified in the heat of a war not to disclose sensitive information to an enemy about for instance, the location, the exact location of… of troops. But there’s no reason that you can’t write a… a good story without disclosing the exact location of where the troops that you’re covering are. I mean general, general descriptions, yes. The… I think that it’s, that it’s unfair to the military that’s engaged in a conflict, if, if you’re deliberately going to go out and help the enemy, their enemy. It might not be your enemy, but their enemy."

Kelly Smith Tunney joined The Associated Press in 1962 and served in more than a dozen news bureaux in the United States, Europe and Asia. In 1967, she spent nearly two months covering the Vietnam War.
Describe the control of the military :
"Censorship is… was not an issue in Vietnam. For the most part, in the last 30 or 40 years, censorship has not been an issue. So you deny them access. Vietnam was a very unique conflict ; more so than any other war and it’s unlikely there will ever be a war quite like that again. The military gave virtually complete access to anyone that came. So that someone from a small newspaper in Oklahoma, or Kansas, or Wyoming, could come over and get press credentials. And a few days later be on a military chopper and go see the war. It was very easy to get credentials, very easy to, and the military made it that way. Because their feeling was, as they gave access, it would help people understand what their view of the war was at that time."

The power of public opinion
The Vietnam War is the only example of a war where the conflict was not only on the army ground, but also in the streets, the places and theuniversities of the whole world.

Very often, the methods used by Americans shocked people : for example, in June 8th 1972, an entire village was burned with napalm, which was totally forbidden by the Geneva Convention. This was a turning point for a little girl, Kim Phuc Bui, who became famous thank to a journalist who took a picture of her ; 75% of her body burned because of this napalm explosion. Gradually, American leaders had some difficulties to justify the war to people.

In 1967, large demonstra-tions began in the USA against the war, with the slogan "Stop the bombing" ; there were even protest movements from soldiers. Moreover, young people acted a lot against the war. They were really concerned by this conflict since a lot of them were fighting and dying in Vietnam.

March 16th 1967 was the darkest day of the Vietnam War for the US ; in the town Mylai, more than a hundred of people including women, children and old men, were exterminated by American Soldiers ("les bérets verts"). Everything was done in order to keep this matter secret, but, at the end of the year, it made the headlines of all the newspapers, especially in USA.

The end of January 1968 was marked by the offensive of "Têt". North of Vietnam attacked the South by surprise though there was a truce for the Buddhist’s New Year. The American army couldn’t resist, so it showed that the war wasn’t won yet, though the White House had considered the victory imminent.President Johnson lost his credibility, and in March 1968, he announced that he would not seek re-election.
To succeed him, a lot of pacifists, from manydifferent parties, stood for elections. Robert Kennedy became one of the favourites, but he was assassinated in June 1968. Then Nixon, a war supporter, was elected. The pressure of public opinion and protest movements forced President Johnson to start negotiations in order to take out American soldiers from South Vietnam.Agreements for the peace were signed on 27th January 1973.
Peace and antiwar movements in the 1960’s and 70’s proved to be part of the most decisive factors ending the US war in VietnamThese movements existed thanks to the broadcast of information from Vietnam ; so indirectly, the American government, which allowed journalists to go on the army ground, was responsible for what triggered the end of the war.

Even if, during the war, journalists were really free, and the people in the world were well informed, it was quite different for soldiers. Actually, they didn’t really know what was happening. I have seen a very famous film, which deals with that, Good morning Vietnam, made in 1987 by Barrie Levinson, with Robin Williams. It shows the situation inside a military camp where a young man is asked prepare a funny chronicle every day on the radio of the base. But when he is the witness of a murder attempt in a restaurant, he wants to talk about it, about reality ; at that moment, he is cut short !

To conclude, we can say that the Vietnam War was really unique. Not Any war unfolded like that One : with such freedom for the media and such an important role from public opinion. It influenced a lot of following press coverage like that of the war in Iraq.


After the scandal of the Watergate and the Vietnam War, we can notice that press has had less and less freedom. Indeed, some governments decided to exert a tighter control over the media, particularly the written press, because of the considerable influence they have on the population (- which is why the media are considered as the fourth power behind the executive, the legislative and the judiciary powers, in a democracy). This increase of the press control was obvious in many cases, and we are going to insist more particularly on the war in Iraq. As a matter of fact, we can observe that the more time went by, the more journalists had difficulties to do their job correctly ; thus, during the Vietnam war, the American Army had given much freedom to the press. Reports and photographs had shown a harsh reality : psychological problems, the death of soldiers, atrocities committed against the Vietnamese. Thus, unrest had grown in the United States, pacifist movements too. After the Vietnamese experience, during the Gulf war, in 1991, the American Army decided to " padlock " the information very strictly. Nowadays, we can remark that this " policy " of disinformation is still used, and journalists have more and more difficulties to discover and to publish information, notably in time of crisis, like the war in Iraq.

The origin of the war
The war in Iraq is a good example to emphasize the role that the press plays in conflict time, and the control that the army can exercise on it. However, first of all, we will remind you of what the origin of the war was : the United States surmised Iraq owned military weapons of massive destruction, missiles for example, which the Iraqi government completely denied. On the other hand, America was interested in the territory because of the oil and the strategic place of the country. So, the USA, supported by Great Britain, which thought the same thing as the Americans, declared war to Iraq at the beginning of the year 2003. This attack was justified by the American wish to overthrow the dictatorial regime of Saddam Hussein.

Relations between journalists and the American Army.
So, during the conflict, the journalists’ rights were scoffed at. As a matter of fact, according to several reporters’ statements, the American army arrested lots of journalists for spying, without any proof ; or journalists were not allowed to circulate freely on the territory ; or they were the targets of Americans’ shootings. Indeed, on the 8th of April 2003, three journalists were killed in Baghdad, the Iraqi capital, by shootings of the American Army. " Besides, the Ministry of the Information, in Baghdad, was bombed twice, while it sheltered the offices of the international media ", said Robert Ménard, general secretary of Reporters Without Borders. These events forecast the contempt of the journalists’ work, whereas they risk their lives in order to inform.
Furthermore, many journalists complained about the more and more hostile attitude of the American Army. Thus, several reporters were threatened to lose their accreditation and the right to do their jobs ; they were arrested and interrogated many hours during which they were ill-treated and humiliated by the forces of the coalition : for example, a group of four journalists, two Israeli - Dan Scemama and Boaz Bismuth - and two Portuguese - Luis Castro and Victor Silva - accused the American military police of making them live " the worst forty-eight hours of their lives ". They were arrested in the night of the 25th to the 26th of March 2003 ; nevertheless supplied with their press’ card, American soldiers declared that they were terrorists and spies, which was totally wrong. There are many other examples, like a journalist of the AFP (Agence France-Presse) who was arrested, on the 18th of June 2003, because he had taken photos of an attack against Americans. These examples characterize the type of obstacles that journalists can meet. Moreover, there is another problem that affected reporters in Iraq : indeed, the American Army controlled their articles and photographs. As a matter of fact, only the army can decide whether articles and photographs can be published or not ; The American Army wants to look after the information in order to influence the population to think the same way as the Army, contrary to what happened during the Vietnam war when the information, which Americans conveyed, had to convince the population that the war had good reasons to be, but there was the reverse effect given that many movements were created against the war.

The attitude of the American Army is an outrage to the freedom of the press .
The American Army was and still is an obstacle to journalists who wanted to do their job, and particularly in crisis time like the war. All the previous mentioned events show that America, like many other countries, scoff at the right to inform. Indeed, journalists, and not the American Army, are the ones who can judge, according to their professional deontology, whether the image of victims or prisoners can be shown or not : they do not need the authorisation of the Army. This attitude is an Infraction to the Constitution of the United States, unless they modify the first amendment, voted in 1791,which stipulates that " The Congress will not establish a law curtailing the freedom of the speech or of the press " ; as a matter of fact the American Constitution resumes the principle that not any Government can avert the expression of the freedom of the press. Although they benefit from a protection by the international right, we can notice that it less and less respected ; indeed, the professionals of information do not always obtain from the belligerents a full guarantee of security ; indeed the army do not want to protect journalists, because they must defend their country.

Pools : a solution for these tensions ?
In order to face these tensions, compromises were found ; so some "pools" were established for the first time during the war of the Falkland, in 1982. This system organised groups, composed of journalists and soldiers. Basically, it was made to have a certain control of the press, while carrying on giving them an access to information. For the soldiers, it was a very good thing. But journalists disagreed with it, because it reduced them access to the army ground, and allowed soldiers to decide what reporters could see or not. But the last point was that with this system, the journalists’ security was better ensured than if they were independent. Because journalists who are completely alone can be killed by soldiers for no reasons (cf : Harrison’s flowers), they can be lost… whereas if they are in a pool, they have to follow soldiers, who can protect them.

To conclude this part, we can say that the situation of journalists is not very simple, given that they cannot work correctly because of the Army’s obstacles, which does not want certain information to pass. In certain cases, the army is ready to lie in order to influence the population in their way, as for example with the case of the American soldier Jessica Lynch : indeed, she was wounded in an ambush and she went to an Iraqi hospital ; but it was said that she was a prisoner of the Iraqi Army which proved wrong because she was in a hospital having medical treatment : the press is also used as a means of propaganda.

All along this presentation, we wanted to show the changes in the way of conveying information, but we shall add that they did not occur in one day ; on the contrary they were made in a long period - which will probably never finish. Indeed, we can notice that, nowadays, press is not as free as before the seventies because it proved to be annoying for all the governments in the world, which cannot control it anymore. We have essentially talked about the United States, and only about a little part of the situation of reporters ; but it was not our Intention. Unfortunately, it turned out that most examples were found in the USA, but we must remember that all the countries are concerned by this kind of problems. Nowadays, the listing of the reporters who are menaced, hurt, killed… is too long. Some people and organisations try to help them and their families, and to save the freedom of the press, like "Reporters without borders", an international organisation. We should not forget that there are many other interesting aspects to study, like the censorship, the use of the media as propaganda…

- Good morning Vietnam by Barrie Levinson – 1987
- Quid 2002
- Encarta
- Universalis
- Harisson’s flowers by - 2001
- La presse, la liberté hors série ( Les clés de l’actualité )

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