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The First Gulf War

Like many other Americans, I watched the Gulf War of 1990-91 on CNN.  Although Vietnam is often described as the first TV war, most of the images were recorded and edited. Satellite TV made the Gulf War the first live TV war, with all the complex issues that live, unedited and sometimes uninformed coverage raises. 

Another historian who was watching was Phil Taylor at the University of Leeds (U.K.).  His Institute of Communication Studies had recently acquired satellite dishes to record coverage from the U.K., U.S. and European networks.  Taylor later recalled to me a conversation in a pub with colleagues about what to record.

"The sociologists said we should record 10 minutes of each hour by all the networks so that we'd have a statistically representative sample.  The historians disagreed. 'What do you want to record?' asked someone. 'All of it, of course,' I said, 'because we don't know yet which bits are going to be important.'

Score: Historians 1, Sociologists 0

The end product was a large cabinet with about 10,500 hours of coverage, starting from a week before the war began and continuing until a week after the ceasefire.  The VHS tapes were labelled by source and date but were otherwise uncatalogued.  I spent several weeks in 1994 viewing tapes from late 1990 and early 1991 to research military-media relations through a case study of the Battle of Khafji.  I used the research in the fourth-year interdisciplinary course I was teaching at Ohio University. Images of War in Film, TV and Literature, and in conference presentations and a journal article.

"Press Pools and Military-Media Relations in the Gulf War: A Case Study of the Battle of Khafji, January 1991," Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television 16:2 (1996)

"Leaks in the Pool: The Press at the Gulf War Battle of Khafji," Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, Washington, D.C., August 1995.

"Press Pools and Unilaterals in the Gulf War," University Film & Video Association, Keene, NH, August 1995.

"Images of the Arab Coalition in the Gulf War," Popular Culture Association, Philadelphia, 1995.