Image courtesy: Pfc. David Hauk, U.S. Army. Kandahar, Afghanistan, November 12, 2009

Monday, December 21, 2009

A case of the Mondays?

It's the Monday of a holiday week. As someone who worked in the news business for eight Christmas seasons, I can tell you that most newsrooms are like ghost towns right now. Many of the journalists working either lost their annual office holiday lotteries or ran out of vacation time.

Something I have not experienced at this time of the year is a deployment in a war zone, thousands of miles away from my family over the holidays. Right now, thousands and thousands of brave American men and women are doing their jobs while surrounded by sand or snowcapped mountains, wishing they were at home. War coverage is where the media and the military clash. Yet today, that collision is more like a minor fender bender, because the press isn't telling us much about what is going on in Iraq or Afghanistan.

I scanned four of the top American news websites -- CNN, Fox News, Yahoo, and MSNBC -- at 4:30 p.m. eastern. Out of all four of these websites, I found a grand total of two stories about either war in all of the top story sections! To be fair, the one Afghanistan story on was given prominent placement on the front page. It's an Associated Press story about how U.S. troops are competing with Taliban terrorists to win the hearts and minds of Afghans. CNN has a negative article about one general's policy against female soldiers getting pregnant in northern Iraq, which applies to about 22,000 troops out of about 115,000 stationed in the country. In my opinion, the headline is misleading, and makes it seem like any servicemember who becomes pregnant in Iraq will go to prison.

It wouldn't make sense to simply give a story count without looking at what these four leading news sites are covering instead. So here's a breakdown. Predictably, all four have articles near the top about the death of modestly successful Hollywood actress Brittany Murphy. All four also have something about Beltway debate on health care reform or holiday shopping, and there are also a couple of stories about the death of Oral Roberts.

The only story among those being heavily covered by the media today that I see equal to the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan is the health care debate, which impacts millions of people's lives. Brittany Murphy? I'm sorry she died so young and feel bad for her family, but is a somewhat famous celebrity's death more important than the casualties of U.S. or coalition troops on the battlefield? What about some of the compelling stories posted here that some local newspapers and TV stations have been covering? What about events on the ground and progress against the enemy?

Perhaps the best story today by any journalist about the wars is by CBS News correspondent Kimberly Dozier, who was nearly killed covering the war in Iraq in May 2006. She bravely returned to the country to report on the incredible progress U.S. troops have made in Iraq since she last visited. In my opinion, any reporter who risks his or her life to cover the war, even if we don't always agree with the way the stories are written or produced, deserves our respect. Yet when I look at the front page of CBS News website, I can't find Dozier's compelling blog post linked anywhere near the site's top story section. Why?

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