As President Trump directs the Pentagon to plan a similar showcase of military might, he is surely hoping for the same kind of flag-waving media coverage that went along with President George H.W. Bush's tribute to Operation Desert Storm 27 years ago.
“In the heady atmosphere of triumph, the media's much-vaunted detachment has gone out the window,” Jeff Greenfield, then a correspondent for ABC's “Nightline,” observed in a telecast on the night before the parade.
“From the corporate sponsors, from the press, from the president of the United States comes the same message,” Greenfield added: “These huge celebrations are to welcome home the men and women who helped produce the most sweeping, decisive U.S. military victory in nearly half a century.”
If Trump's vision becomes reality, expect him to borrow from this old script. Trump recently said it was “un-American” and maybe even “treasonous” (the latter comment being a joke, supposedly) for Democrats not to stand and applaud certain lines in his State of the Union address. Imagine what he will say about anyone who does not cheer a heavily armed celebration of U.S. troops.
For Trump, media consultant to himself, the beauty of a military parade is that even reporting that attempts to be purely descriptive will project the strong image he desires.
Consider the scenes depicted in major newspapers in 1991.
“Stealth fighter planes zoomed overhead, tanks and Patriot missiles rolled by and more than 8,000 battle-clad troops marched past a beaming President Bush in a display of the American military might that crushed Iraq in 43 days of combat,” read a Los Angeles Times article.
The Washington Post reported that “a Harrier jet and a formation of helicopters blew gravel, and a few minds, as they landed on the grass between the U.S. Capitol and the Washington Monument.”
In the Chicago Tribune's account, “Howitzers, Tomahawk missiles, M-1 Abrams tanks — whose treads left indentations in the streets — and a Patriot missile system, the star of the war against Iraq, jammed the streets.”
Such reports didn't necessarily present Bush's parade as a good idea. “Indentations in the streets” are a public works headache, and The Post article went on to quote a helicopter pilot who said, “I think we blew away some joggers and sandblasted a few cars.”
Nevertheless, the spectacles portrayed in the press were undeniably impressive — and will be again in 2018, if Trump goes through with his parade plan.