War Deaths and the Press
Kevin Drum observes that the flap over the Nightline special devoted to the soldiers who have died in Iraq is the latest in a series of episodes where conservatives have made what he believes is an incorrect calculation.
Present day conservatives seem to unthinkingly assume that any public acknowledgement of Iraqi war deaths is obviously just an underhanded political gesture designed to weaken support for the war. This is partly a result of their paranoid conviction that the sole purpose of the media is to undermine conservative causes, but it’s also a tacit admission that this is, fundamentally, a war with very shallow support indeed. If they really believed in the war and in the administration’s handling of it, they’d show some backbone and welcome Ted Koppel’s gesture of respect tonight. Instead they’re acting as if they’re ashamed we’re over there.
While there is some reason to think that personalizing the deaths of our soldiers will undermine support for the war with a public that hasn’t seen significant combat losses in a generation, I don’t think that’s the main concern. Conservative suspicion that the elite media have contempt for them and their causes is not totally without basis. If Fox News were having this special–or even C-SPAN–I would believe it was motivated by a desire to honor the fallen. When ABC News does it, that rationale is hard to swallow.
Of the controversies Kevin lists, it never really occured to me to question displaying the barbaric attack on the contractors in Fallujah, as it was a breaking news story. I argued in favor of showing the coffins coming home, or at least against the military’s ban of showing them, on both 1st Amendment and democratic grounds. I thought the Nightline plan was exploitative and politically motivated, although certainly within their right to do.
Ironically, Nighline’s genesis almost 25 years ago was sober nightly coverage of the Iran Hostage Crisis. If they had approached this situation in a similar fashion, I think they would have come in for much less flak. Death of Americans in a war is certainly newsworthy. Showing a photograph and read the names of the soldiers who died that day would be a fitting memorial. Presenting them as a sea of faces that blur together is a statement, not a tribute.