A Fort Riley survey of military spouses and the media is showing the likes of the dislikes of the couples. About 83 percent of the spouses in the study reported they thought there should be more positive stories and fewer negative stories. “There are some reporting the good going on. I mean it’s frustrating as a military spouse to see all the negativity with the war.” Another spouse said, “We don’t get the whole picture. I hear failures more often than I hear success. That’s not what I hear from the military guys.”
More than half of the respondents said there was too much focus on casualties, both Soldier and civilian casualties. “All you hear about is death tolls, attacks and suicide bombers,” one spouse said. Another spouse said, “They always capitalize on casualties, always.” Two more spouses said, “There’s more to Iraq than a body count,” and, “It’s like they just want to cover the death toll.”
About a third of the respondents said consuming news coverage caused them to feel angry, frustrated, scared, worried or stressed. “It’s filled with depressing news and it’s hard for me to be encouraging for my husband,” a female spouse said.
Spouses in the study tended to choose television, specifically CNN, MSNBC/NBC, and FOX most frequently for news coverage. Internet was the second-most sought source for news coverage of the war, however, spouses in the study mentioned bumping into news online while using their Web-based e-mail as opposed to intentionally visiting news Web sites for coverage. Spouses of Reserve Component Soldiers indicated they used little military news sources, and spouses of Active Component Soldiers indicated they used little local news.
Most of the spouses reported using news coverage to gain information, to keep up with the area their Soldier was in and to gauge the progress of the war. “Because I want to keep informed of what the media is saying so I can know since my husband is in Iraq and most of our family sees what media are seeing. When they say, ‘Oh, my God, did you see…’ I can set them straight,” one female spouse said.
A few spouses indicated they used news coverage to form their opinion on the war or inform their decisions on elected officials. “I like being informed and know what’s going on to form opinions politically and morally,” a female spouse said.
About a third of the respondents indicated they thought media influence public opinion of the war, and most of those who voiced that sentiment said they thought media were turning public opinion against the war. One male spouse said, “The entire country wants to be done with the war and media are trying to help with that matter.”
When spouses were asked if they thought journalists were doing a good job or bad job reporting the war, about 43 percent said they were doing a fair job, they had no opinion or were unwilling to give an opinion. Another 30 percent said they were doing a good job and 17 percent said they were doing a bad job.
A few spouses said journalists were doing their job, but that they disagreed with the standards that made them good at their job. “I think they’re doing the job they were taught; they’re probably doing a great job. By my standards, I don’t think it’s great,” a female spouse said.
Some spouses indicated they thought journalists made a big story out of something little, sensationalized stories or generalized one story to the larger picture. “There’s sensationalism. They’re trying to sell ad space and air time. It’s about dollars and making money—not about what’s taking place,” a male spouse in a dual military couple said.
A few spouses in the study said they trusted reports from military sources more than those from civilian sources. Another spouse pointed out that the information she got through military sources was more trustworthy than news media. “I get weekly e-mail of what’s going on in the military like a Military Times thing. It’s very non-biased because it’s put on by the military,” she said. Two respondents said they don’t believe, trust or find media credible. “I don’t like to (consume media). I can only believe maybe 10 percent of it 90 percent of the time,” another female spouse said.
Of the eight respondents who discussed the practice of embedding reporters with military units, half said they liked embedded reporters and half said they disliked embedded reporters. Those who liked embedding reporters most often liked the coverage from those reporters who they said were getting the story alongside Soldiers and seeing it first-hand. Those who disliked the practice pointed to the added burden on Soldiers to keep embeds safe. “I would tell my husband, if it’s between you and the journalist, throw the journalist in front. It’s not safe for our troops,” a female spouse said.
The study consisted of in-depth interviews with 30 Army spouses. Four respondents were male spouses and two were dual military couples. Twenty-one of the respondents’ Soldiers were enlisted and nine were spouses of officers. Twenty-two of the respondents were spouses of Soldiers in the Active Component and eight had Soldiers serving in the Reserve Component.
Spouses were assured anonymity to achieve the greatest openness and candidness. The research was conducted with spouses mostly from Fort Riley, Kan., and communities within Kansas from October 2006 to February 2008 as a thesis for a Master’s degree in journalism and mass communications from Kansas State University.
To view the entire study, visit http://hdl.handle.net/2097/740.
(Alison Kohler is an Army Reserve spouse and a public affairs specialist for Fort Riley Public Affairs.)