Examine the role of journalists in documenting history
March 21, 2003
Web posted at: 1:51 AM EST (0651 GMT)
Overview: Pentagon officials said the massive aerial assault expected on Iraq was put on hold Thursday afternoon. The Pentagon said it wanted to see whether Iraq's leadership was affected by the first strikes that took place on Thursday morning. On Friday, U.S.-led ground forces crossed the borders into Iraq, and coalition casualties were reported in Kuwait.
After students read "U.S. troops enter Iraq, head toward Baghdad" and watch the first segment of CNN Student News (the video can be accessed from CNNStudentNews.com) pose the following questions:
1. What is the status of Operation Iraqi Freedom? Why was the massive aerial assault that some officials had expected on Iraq put on hold? Why do you think this assault is being referred to as the "shock and awe" phase of the war? What is Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's take on the war so far?
2. Refer students to the Holt, Rinehart and Winston map of Asia (http://go.hrw.com/atlas/norm_htm/asia.htm) to identify the allied troop movement from Kuwait into Iraq.
3. "(A journalist has the) inescapably impossible task of providing every week a first rough draft of a history that will never be completed about a world we can never understand." - Phil Graham, late chairman of the board of the Washington Post Company
Share the above quotation with your students and challenge them to discuss the role of journalists in providing a first rough draft of history. What do they think Phil Graham meant by this statement? How does the work of a journalist compare with the work of an historian? What role do journalists play in recording history?
Challenge students to begin a timeline for the war against Iraq. Decide on a format for displaying clippings about the war including articles, photos, graphics, and maps. Some techniques that work well are cork bulletin boards with pushpins or string with paper clips or clothespins. Place the front page of a newspaper or magazine announcing war for students to see. Then, inform students that each night (or week) they should search print and online news sources for key stories about the war. Each day, or at the end of each week, students should present their stories to the class. After a class discussion about the events, the students should vote on which story should make it to the timeline (if done weekly, students can choose more than one story). After the class has selected the clipping(s), record on an index card the person who brought in the clipping, the date and source of the clipping, and a list of bullet points explaining the reasons for the selection. The clips that were not chosen for the timeline should be categorized by topic and placed into an appropriate envelope or box for future reference.
At the end of a selected period of time, such as a month, tell students that they need to narrow down their multitude of clippings to just five (if done weekly, you may want to let a little more time go by). This assignment can be done in small groups or as a class. The point of this exercise is to help students understand the work of historians, which is making choices about what is most meaningful and significant. If journalism is a first draft of history, then students are compiling the content for the history of this war against Iraq. Encourage students to compile a class history of the war. Included in this history could be personal contributions such as poems, stories, drawings or other pieces of work to illustrate the students' feelings about and reflections on the war.
As a wrap-up to the activity, ask students the following questions:
• Do you think journalists provide a first draft of history? If so, how? If not, why not?
• Were there some topics that got selected more often than others? If so, how do you explain the selections?
• What information did journalists provide? What information was left out? How do you account for the choices made by the journalists?
• How do you think an historian might interpret your class history 1, 5, 10 or 50 years from now? Which clippings do you think will be most significant as time goes by? Explain.