Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs
Costs of War

Covering the Wars

The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been deadly for those who have reported on them: hundreds of journalists and other media staff have been killed while covering combat operations, in retaliation for controversial wartime coverage, and in vehicle crashes while reporting, for example.

In addition, thorough and unbiased coverage of the wars has been especially challenging for a number of reasons. In Afghanistan and during the first decade of war in Iraq, the US military controlled access to combat zones with the “embed system.” In addition, it has produced more of its own material than ever before that puts the military’s own spin on the war before the international and domestic public. The military has also restricted access to combat zones, such as during the 2004 Fallujah siege, during which officials denied press and humanitarian organizations access to the city altogether.

Public access to budget information about the post-9/11 is imperfect and incomplete. The scale of spending alone makes it hard to grasp. Public understanding of the budgetary costs of war is further limited by secrecy, faulty accounting, and the deferral of current costs.


Key Findings

  • Hundreds of journalists and other media staff have died covering the Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan wars.

  • Public understanding of the budgetary costs of war is limited by scale, secrecy, faulty accounting, and the deferral of current costs.

Recommendations

  • The Pentagon should adopt a policy of unrestricted media access to combat zones during current and future wars.

  • Congress should reduce the Pentagon budget used for public relations efforts where these have had the effect of distorting public understanding of the nature of the wars.

(Page updated as of June 2021)