Wartime news reporting is accurate when recording friendly losses. (In a democratic society) In many cases, the accuracy is such that well after the war, the figures stated are not modified by much. Wartime news reporting is inconsistent when reporting enemy losses. In low intensity wars, reporting tends to be more accurate on this issue. In larger affairs, it is off the mark far more frequently. Wartime reporting fails miserably when doing any type of analysis. A classic example is the Washington Post, dated October 15th, 1943. After reading this, the reader would be lead to believe that we (The enemies of Germany and Japan) were basically stalled. That we were not winning the war! In fact, the Allies were so domineering at that point in the war that it is hard to understand how the reporting could have been so far off. This is a pattern that I have seen present in publications during the American Civil War, World War I, Korea, and Vietnam. I see this pattern in many publications today as well. It seems worse currently, but maybe this is partly because I am more involved and have a great deal more to work with.
The ‘Tet’ offensive in 1968 is another example. North Vietnam launched an offensive to demonstrate how far they had come. They committed most of the VC cadres that had been built up over 10 years. The NVA also committed 5 divisions in an attempt at a conventional battle. It was a disaster. The 5 divisions were wiped out, as were many of the VC cadres. Yet newspapers reported this as a stunning defeat. The losses to the enemy were understated. The losses on our side were fairly accurate. Politically, we lost. A more current example:
Remember the 30 day war that Hezbollah and Israel fought a year and a half ago? (August 2006) The news that I was watching and reading reported that Israel lost and Hezbollah won BIG-TIME. (Exception: The Wall Street Journal was careful to point out that these views were political in nature.) Yes, politically this was the case. Looking at it from a different view leads me to question this. The IDF (Israel Defense Force) numbers about 150,000. All the estimates of Hezbollah that I have seen at the time placed them at about 7000 combatants. Loss of life was reported at 158 for Israel and around 2000 for Hezbollah. (This is not counting civilian losses.) In other words, Israel lost about .1% of its combat strength, and Hezbollah lost about 20%. Many well-trained combat units have broken and fled the field in disorder after losing far less than 20%. Hezbollah is not a well-trained combat unit. Hezbollah got hurt, BAD. At best, morale took a major hit. Even if figures were off somewhat, it will take at least a year or two to recover. Please note how seldom we have been hearing about them for the past 18 months.
I read in the Chicago Tribune in an issue in 1971 that the United States could not win in Vietnam because the V.C. and NVA controlled the countryside and we could only control the cities. In Iraq today, is the situation not reversed? Yet we still cannot win? Good reasons exist why the situation evolved the way they did in both Vietnam and Iraq. I can see that newspaper reporting in general has very little to absolutely no understanding of the warfare that is being covered.