Fifty years later, updates on the Persian Gulf War blanketed the earth instantaneously via live television. Indeed, television profoundly influenced the ways in which President Bush and his commanders explained their military objectives, and at times the ways in which they pursued those objectives. If Vietnam was our first TV war, the Gulf conflict may have been, in a sense, our first made-for-TV war. And when American troops arrived in Somalia, they found television crews with their cameras waiting for them at the landing point.
The Gulf War and the aid to Somalia program demonstrated, as we had hypothesized when planning this study in 1988, that television has transformed the environment in which presidents respond to foreign crises. Compared to 1962 (and the Cuban Missile Crisis) or even 1975 (and the Mayaguez seizure), television now provides more information, more quickly, to more people, who find it more trustworthy. The defining ingredients of President Kennedy's response to the Cuban Missile Crisis -- the thoughtful, chin-pulling deliberations, the President's ability to mold the public's understanding of the events, the covenant secretly arrived at -- all are things of the past.
Relying on the recollections of participants in three major crises, Annenberg Washington Program Senior Fellow Michael Beschloss analyzes what television has wrought. Beschloss, one of the nation's brightest historians, explains how many of the changes constitute new perils for presidents. Some constitute new opportunities. None can safely be ignored.
In 1962, reporters chided President Kennedy for trying to "manage" the news during the missile crisis. Three decades later, television's pervasiveness, for better or worse, is an indispensable ingredient of presidential crisis management.
Newton N. Minow
The Annenberg Washington Program