"Anticipatory Witnessing: Military Bases and the Politics of Pre-Empting Access." Information, Communication & Society, 2020.

Muira McCammon

As part of their newsgathering process, journalists often seek access to places owned or controlled by the government, such as military bases. In the United States, the military has rigorously limited journalists’ access to military bases, operations, and personnel, but the logics invoked by the government actors who decide whether journalists should be allowed, for the sake of a story, to see what happens on military bases often remain unknown. Drawing on archival research, I introduce what I call anticipatory witnessing, the use of analytical techniques to identify a priori certain people, such as media practitioners, whom state actors foresee will draw on specific elements of professionalism, credentialism, and objectivity in conveying what they have seen to their audiences. The notion of anticipatory witnessing encompasses a form of organizational vetting that is attuned to the specific social, cultural, political, and legal dimensions of those who see and subsequently speak. To engage in anticipatory witnessing is therefore to attempt to limit not just what is seen but who sees it. By analyzing practices adopted by military servicemembers at Guantánamo Bay, I demonstrate the ways in which cross-institutional communications preceding journalists’ arrival reveal elements of anticipatory witnessing, including efforts to imagine how specific rhetoric, technologies, modes of address, and partnerships might damage the reputation of the US security state. Anticipatory witnessing thus considers the logics invoked and constellations of stakeholders responsible for limiting access to tightly controlled spaces, such as military bases.