In 1991, French sociologist Jean Baudrillard provocatively claimed that ‘the Gulf War did not take place’. His argument was not a denial of the violence, suffering, and death experienced by civilians but rather that those very realities were absent in the mediatised consumption of the conflict. Dominant discourses reproduce the key events of the age, and the distant spectator can hardly escape the saturation of simulated symbols they entail. In Baudrillard’s words, ‘the warriors bury themselves in the desert leaving only hostages to occupy the stage, including all of us as information hostages on the world media stage’.
Since the Gulf War, media coverage of conflict has evolved alongside the emergence of an expanded apparatus of propaganda and misinformation. The advent of ‘fake news’ wars, accompanied by social media bots and trolls, has arguably resulted in a devaluation of truth in journalism. Sophie McNeill’s We Can’t Say We Didn’t Know: Dispatches from an age of impunity is framed as a call to arms against this status quo from within the media industry. As the ABC’s former Middle East correspondent, McNeill tells the story of the region’s post-Arab Spring conflicts and continued injustices through a series of civilian profiles.