Troops Question Woodruff Coverage
Pam Hess reports that some troops are steamed over the excessive coverage of the wounding of ABC anchor Bob Woodruff as compared to the hundreds of soldiers who were wounded while receiving far smaller paychecks.
The American media stood up and took notice when an improvised explosive device grievously injured an ABC News crew Sunday. In Iraq, and throughout the military, there is sympathy and concern for anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt, but there is also this question: “Why do you think this is such a huge story?” wrote an officer stationed in Baqubah, Iraq, Monday via e-mail. “It’s a bit stunning to us over here how absolutely dominant the story is on every network and front page. I mean, you’d think we lost the entire 1st Marine Division or something. “There’s a lot of grumbling from guys at all ranks about it. That’s a really impolite and impolitic thing to say … but it’s what you would hear over here.”
At least 2,242 troops have died in Iraq since the war’s start, 1,753 of them killed in action. Another 16,000 have been injured, half of them seriously enough to require evacuation from the battlefield. According to the Pentagon, 60 percent of the deaths are the result of IEDs. IEDs have injured more than 9,200 troops, nine times more than gunshots. “The point that is currently being made (is that) that press folks are more important than mere military folks,” a senior military officer told UPI Tuesday.
While the troops’ reaction is understandable, this is really rather easy to explain. First, this is the typical man bites dog versus dog bites man story. Soldiers getting wounded in a war is expected; network news anchors getting wounded in a war is highly unusual. Indeed, I can’t remember the last time it happened. For that matter, Woodruff’s cameraman, who nobody had ever heard of, has also been an afterthought in the coverage.
Further, as Hess notes,
Having a personal connection to someone injured or killed on the battlefield is a relatively rare experience for journalists. Fewer than 1 percent of the U.S. population is part of the military; very few reporters have served. The war is comfortably distant, until a fellow journalist is affected. It could have been me, we think. The full weight of war is hard to comprehend until it happens to you, or someone you know, or someone like you.
Modern American celebrity culture has certainly magnified the latest incident: Woodruff is recognizable, relatable, respectable. He was selected for his job as co-anchor not just for his undoubted journalistic credentials but also because ABC decided he was the kind of person Americans would want to welcome into their homes every night. His injury, therefore, feels personal to many viewers. “He’s the kind of celebrity we feel we know. That’s the mature of these anchors. But we feel we know these people and we care what happens to them,” Montgomery said.
Quite right. I am a combat veteran and have not seen a single broadcast of ABC News since Woodruff became anchor. Yet, I ran a post on Woodruff’s wounding the instant I read about it. There is simply no doubt that it had news value.
Still, Cori Dauber makes a very good point: Perhaps the media should learn from their coverage of the Woodruff wounding in their treatment of non-celebrities.
[N]ow that this has brought this closer to home for the press, all terrorist propaganda value of these tapes aside, you would think the press would now realize that all that terrorist-provided file footage they’ve got is somebody’s family, somebody’s loved one, getting blown up. So maybe all the networks — although, ironically, by my count ABC is by far the worst offender — could stop stuffing their pieces stemming off the injuries to ABC’s team, particularly the news pieces on the importance of the roadside bomb, with as many separate segments of footage showing an explosion at, on, or under a convoy as possible.
I will ask again: if footage exists of the attack on the convoy Woodruff and Vogt were in, do you think it will ever see the light of day on American television?