1983: Censorship During the Grenada Occupation Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

On October 25, 1983, approximately six thousand U.S. Marines and paratroopers invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada on the orders of President Ronald Reagan. Hostilities ended ten days later, and U.S. combat troops were withdrawn by December 15, 1983. Military commanders, supported by the Reagan administration, kept all news reporters out of Grenada during the first two days of military operations. Not surprisingly, representatives of the news media bitterly accused the president and the Pentagon of denying freedom of the press and encouraging censorship in the name of national security.

During this surprise invasion, U.S. military leaders kept the press out of Grenada, thus preventing independent news coverage of initial military operations.

On October 25, 1983, approximately six thousand U.S. Marines and paratroopers invaded the tiny Caribbean island of Grenada on the orders of President Ronald Reagan. Hostilities ended ten days later, and U.S. combat troops were withdrawn by December 15, 1983. Military commanders, supported by the Reagan administration, kept all news reporters out of Grenada during the first two days of military operations. Not surprisingly, representatives of the news media bitterly accused the president and the Pentagon of denying freedom of the press and encouraging censorship in the name of national security.

The military’s contention that the exclusion of press representation during the initial fighting was motivated solely by concerns for the reporters’ safety was promptly challenged. Journalists pointed out that they had always accepted the risks of war as part of their profession, citing the 146 war correspondents killed during World War II and the 53 correspondents killed in the Vietnam War. Management of the news by the Department of Defense was described as a military blackout. This implied that unsympathetic coverage of the war against Grenada should not be available to the American public or the U.S. Congress.

A long tradition of war reporting and the First Amendment’s protection of the public’s right to know dates back to the U.S. Civil War. In Grenada, however, the Pentagon chose to bar independent media access by not arranging transportation, allowing unrestricted movement among the troops, or providing communications facilities on the island until the invasion’s success was achieved.

This type of censorship differed from that during the British-Argentine Falkland Islands War seven years earlier. In that conflict the British government provided journalists with access to warships, and gave a limited number of journalists access to the ground fighting, but it subjected their reports to official scrutiny, deletion, and revision. In Grenada the U.S. officials did not overtly censor the press; it simply did not bring reporters along during the initial fighting, thereby creating a news blackout. The important exceptions to the blackout were the Pentagon’s official statements on the fighting, White House justifications of the invasion, and statements of other officials, who portrayed the rescue mission of American medical students and removal of Grenada’s communist government in the best possible light.

The relationship between the U.S. press and the military establishment had deteriorated so greatly since the Vietnam War that, in the eyes of leading military officers, much of the press was viewed as motivated by malevolent intent and lacking any sympathy for a strong military. An attempt to reconcile the media and the press was made by the Sidle Commission report, August 23, 1984. It recommended that the media should be allowed to cover U.S. military operations to the maximum degree possible in the future. If only a few journalists could be accommodated, then “pool” reporters would be selected by the Pentagon who then would share their information with other journalists.

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