‘Nightline’ To Read Off Iraq War Dead
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.