‘Nightline’ To Read Off Iraq War Dead

NYT: ‘Nightline’ to Read Off Iraq War Dead [RSS]

In a conscious echo of a famous, Vietnam War-era issue of Life magazine, the ABC News program “Nightline” will broadcast Friday night the names and faces of every soldier killed by hostile fire since the start of the war in Iraq.

Ted Koppel, the program’s anchor, will deliver a brief introduction before reading the more than 530 names, as photographs and captions with the ages and hometowns of the dead appear on the screen. “Nightline” will not include those who died by accident and other causes because of time constraints; Mr. Koppel will barely have two seconds for each name.

“I have always felt, and I said it when I was in Iraq last year, that the most important thing a journalist can do is remind people of the cost of war,” Mr. Koppel said in a telephone interview yesterday.

I agree completely. On the other hand, it’s also the duty of a journalist to add context. Bill Kristol is right:

But William Kristol, the editor of The Weekly Standard, said the message was clear to him. “This is a statement with a capital S, and it’s a stupid statement,” he said. The program’s conceit, he added, was a selective one, chosen to emphasize the controversy over the war in Iraq while neglecting to mention the casualties in Afghanistan or those killed by terrorists.

Mr. Koppel did not dispute that “Nightline” is looking for impact. “You can read the headlines every day – two soldiers killed, three Marines killed – and it doesn’t have the same impact as seeing one page of these photos,” he said. “All of a sudden you look at all those young people and it really hits you.”

But he said “Nightline” was not taking political sides. “If the motivation to go to war is good, is justifiable,” he said, “then the cost, whether it is 500, or 5,000, or 50,000, is something people will accept. Should the motivation not be good, then 5 is too many.”

Again, that’s correct. But to capitalize on the dead–this is sure to be a ratings score and, oddly, they don’t seem to publicize other upcoming episodes in this way–without putting either their lives or their mission in context is pornographic. It adds nothing to the debate.

The White House is playing this as well as could be expected:

The White House declined to comment officially. But a senior Administration official, who requested anonymity, said: “If that’s what Mr. Koppel chooses to do, it’s his program. We don’t make program decisions for them.”

“The White House mourns the loss of every soldier,” the official added. “It’s good that Americans that have given their lives in a sacrifice for freedom and democracy be recognized.”

Indeed. Of course, that’s hardly the intent of the program.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Rich Arnone says:

    I despise Ted Koppel for this. Please allow me to state the obvious. He is attempting to use the dead to discredit the war and thus hurt President Bush’s re-election chances. And like so many others in the traditional media, his hatred of America is only exceeded by his hatred of Bush. I am one citizen who is very tired of their self-righteous lies and partisan innuendoes.

  2. paladin says:

    I trust Ted will be fair and balanced by not only showing the “cost of war” but also the reason for war. I’m sure he will soon have a program featuring those killed by terrorists. Yes, photos and names of them all. After all, it’s the right thing to do, unless you are just using our fallen soldiers for propaganda purposes. I’m sure Ted would never do that.

  3. Well, this is just like when Koppel read off the dead from 9-11.

    Oh, wait, they didn’t do that, did they?

  4. Dave says:

    The News Hour with Jim Lehrer does the something similar. Since early in the conflict, they show an official photo of each fatal casualty at the end of the show as the photos become available. With no audio, each photo is displayed for about 30 seconds.

    It is pretty moving.

    But I don’t think it is very effective. Our impartial friends at PBS were probably motivated by the same thing as Koppel; they are trying to underscore the costs of the war. While a casualty figure is an abstract, left-brain concept, when you see a photo you can’t help but sympathize. These people are so clear-eyed, so obviously good, and oh so young. It becomes clear that:

    • We are the good guys.
    • Anyone who has dehumanized these people to the point where killing them casually is possible would be just as capable of killing any other American.
    • The racial mix in our armed forces is representative of the country as a whole. ANSWER (the R stands for Racism) and Chuck Hegel are just plain wrong.

    Michael Moore probably has a different reaction to seeing the casualty photos, but I don’t think the average American has much in common with that sniveling creep.

    Every casualty is tragic but the fact that displaying a photo of each fallen hero is feasible is a miracle.

    Before getting too upset one way or the other remember that like the News Hour, few people (and especially few undecided voters) watch Nightline.

  5. Scott Harris says:

    It is unfortunate that the intent of such an episode is patently obvious to everyone – they want to stir up anti-war sentiment by emphasizing the “cost” of war. Of course, they will fail to mention the cost of not going to war.

    But rather than stir up anti-war sentiment, it is more likely to inspire more Pat Tillmans – young men who are inspired to heroism by the sacrifice of others. To those for whom the idea of honorable service is a foreign concept, they just cannot understand why many of us believe that some things are worth sacrificing lives. But the rest of us understand that the only way to honor the sacrifice these patriots have made is to complete the task at hand. And so we will.

  6. mindyjo says:

    The comments above must surly have been before the arying of the show. What a wonderful program. When did honoring our fallen service men and women become the wrong thing to do? I thank nightline for the courage. I hope others will follow.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Now that the horrifying details of Nick Berg’s brutal murder have been released, I hope that Nihgtline will not you ignore it, or place the blame on Bush? They have the right to promote anti-American propaganda, but not this time, please TED!