A unique archive of more than 2,000 hours of television network news coverage of the Gulf War from Desert Shield to the Baghdad Highway exists at Vanderbilt University.
"Sixty percent of the collection is CNN, the remainder from ABC, NBC and CBS," said John Lynch, assistant director of the Vanderbilt Television News Archive, whose staff's primary mission is to capture and categorize the networks' regularly scheduled nightly news programs and selected special newscasts.
The Archive, founded at Vanderbilt University in 1968, contains more than 27,000 videotapes of news programs and satisfies more than 2,000 requests each year, affording unique public access to the networks' nightly newscasts, ABC's "Nightline," and special news programs. All of those holdings are extensively indexed and abstracted for ease of cross-referencing and rigorous study of news content, format, videography and other aspects of television journalism.
However, because of attention to its primary mission, the staff has been unable to index and organize the Gulf War collection in the same manner.
"Fortunately, we do have an abbreviated treatment of this material, a rough-cut computerized data base for the collection," Lynch explained, "and that lets an analyst locate major developments in the war and its coverage, major interviews, and many key topics.
"So, that gives researchers a way to at least cut into this history. And, of course, we have fully indexed the nightly newscasts during the war."
Lynch said he believes it is important that the networks' treatment of the war be available to historians, journalists, policy-makers and others so that they do not have to rely heavily on their memories to recall specific reports and the incidents, themselves. "Our experience is that memory fails more often than not when the subject is television news details," Lynch said.
Lynch said scholars who have inquired about obtaining 1991 Gulf War videotapes prepared by Archive staff have backed away when they learned that the voluminous material has not been indexed and organized.
During the war, Lynch added, the Archive received numerous calls from families of servicemen serving in the combat theater. "They thought they saw their brother, sister or son or daughter on a major broadcast news show, and they wanted to know that person was indeed safe. Usually, they would borrow a loaned tape to share with other friends or family members," Lynch added.
"Among the many interesting aspects of Gulf War coverage is the extent to which broadcast journalists and technicians in the field had to improvise -- much more than in Vietnam, which was not a 'live' war -- and had to rely on Pentagon press briefings and paint pictures of aerial combat and missile attacks on civilian and military targets," Lynch said.
"It will be particularly interesting when scholars compare the networks' live, impromptu work with the work they did summarizing the day's events each evening, or in their weekend specials," he noted. Lynch said the collection should prove valuable to journalists, editors, scholars and government officials who want to "compare coverage of America's first major military engagement of the Nineties with coverage of earlier conflicts, with conflicts yet-to-come, or with coverage of the mission of U.S. forces in Somalia.
The Archive's nightly news coverage of combat began not long after the Vietnam Tet Offensive of 1968 and has continued without interuption. CONTACT: Milt Capps, Vanderbilt University, 615-322-2706; nites 615-665-9717