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Burriss on Media: Pearl Harbor


This week December 7th is the 70 anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Many people recall hearing James Daley make the news announcement about the attack, and today that tape is standard fare in history and broadcasting classes.

But what is also interesting is the effect the attack had on American media.

Remember, these were the days before television, and for many people, the only video was in the news reels shown in movie theaters. But curiously, there was no film of the attack released for more than a year after the event. The stark scenes were deemed to intense for American audiences, and it was felt the demoralizing images would hurt the war effort.

Another interesting side-effect was the creation of the Office of Censorship, under the direction of Byron Price of the Associated Press. The office was established a few days after the attack, and a month later issued guidelines for voluntary censorship.

Price and his staff drew up a short list of guidelines, which included such suggestions as coastal radio not giving completely accurate weather forecasts so as to not help the enemy plan an attack.

The office worked directly with newspaper and radio reporters, and there were few conflicts between freedom of the press and the need to keep military secrets away from the enemy.

In fact, in many cases Price stood up again restrictions the military tried to place on the news media, and in several instances convinced President Roosevelt and the War Department to increase the flow of information coming from Europe and the Pacific.

Of course other forms of media got behind the war effort, as Hollywood, for instance, turned out a whole series of feature films and shorts designed to both entertain and build morale on the home front. Names such as Walt Disney and Frank Capra immediately come to mind.

It is estimated there were about 84,000 military personnel on Oahu on December 7th. Today there are only about 8,000 alive today, which means more effort must be made to keep the memory alive. That’s because the attack on Pearl Harbor did more than simply get us into the war. It brought the specter of war home to a complacent and self-satisfied America, and forever changed the relations between the media and the government, changes that would last all the way into this century.

I'm Larry Burriss.