Week 9 : Meaning in War Reporting

Lukin, A. “Reporting War: Grammar as Covert Operation” Dissent (2003), pg.14-20

“Truth is the first casualty of war.”

During the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars, a predominate memory which stands out in my head is the 24 hours coverage of the conflicts. Images of warplanes, tanks and coalition troops were broadcast over all major forms of media. What we see in the media has had a mass impact on public opinion relating to the Iraq War.

The author of the reading, Annabelle Lukin, aims to “explore the ways in which grammar can conceal and distort real meaning”. Specifically, she focuses on how the use of grammar in media reporting during the Iraq war and influence or sway public opinion. “Grammar is our most important resource for creating meaning…Grammar is a theory of reality.”

Lukin puts forward several concepts and ideas about the use of Grammar in war reporting. The use of language and words themselves are used to shape used and distort certain facts to take a certain angle or approach to reporting a story. As Lukin says, the ‘facts can’t speak for themselves. The ‘facts’ only emerge by being ‘out into words’”. In other words, it is through the carefully constructed sentences of media release statements and journalists that certain aspects of ‘facts’ are highlighted and emphasised.

Another concept is the use of active and passive effective clauses to highlight her aim. She uses two headlines as examples for analysis: “Coalition forces dropped bombs on Baghdad” and “Bombs fell on Baghdad”. The active voice of the first headline hold Coalition forces as specifically responsible for bombing Baghdad. The passive voice enables the choice laying responsibility on Coalition troops, but the latter headline chooses to competently omit the human agent of ‘Coalition forces’. Using this clause, it was as if the bombs somehow made their way to Baghdad, as if it just happened, revoking responsiblity from the coalition soldeirs. Using the words of former US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld says, “Stuff happens.”

In assessing Lukin’s point, she raises interesting aspects and ideas about the use of meaning within the reading highlights the persuasive and distorted use of grammar and words  in war reporting. From my personal experiences, the grammer of war reporting and the impacting meaning they have upon the audience, greatly sways public opinion, both towards and against the war. This form of war reporting is bound to continue in furthur conflicts.


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