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

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

War coverage vanishes amid Haiti crisis, political drama

The earthquake in Haiti, Senator-elect Scott Brown's upset victory in Massachusetts, and the debate over health care are all big stories. The crisis in the Caribbean, where U.S. troops are now stationed to help, is particularly important due to human suffering at a scale the world has not witnessed since the 2004 Asian tsunami. Still, even in the face of these challenging stories, there is no excuse for the media all but abandoning the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, which do not pause because of other world events.

A study released by Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that the devastation in Haiti accounted for 27% of news coverage in the week of January 18-24. Next was the Massachusetts Senate race, with 21%. The economy and the challenges facing the Obama administration both had 7%, and the health care debate came in fifth at 5%.

The Haiti story deserved to get the most media coverage during that period, so I have no argument there. But failing to give two wars with real human consequences anywhere near the same level of attention is a deriliction of duty by the national media. Between the dates this survey was compiled, the Pentagon identified eight casualties from the war zones. That means eight different families and a countless number of friends and fellow troops lost someone close to them during America's continuing post-9/11 struggle. Did that not merit at least a measurable amount of media attention?

Pfc. Gifford Hurt, who gave his life in Iraq on January 20, did not join the military to become a national celebrity. But that doesn't mean 24-hour cable news networks don't have time to honor his sacrifice, even while covering other important news. Having corresponded with his grieving mother last week, I know that even a few moments devoted by one of the big networks would have meant the world to her.

Many folks in the media, who I worked with for almost nine years, are great at making excuses. When I questioned the lack of Iraq and Afghanistan coverage supposedly due to a "big story," almost none of which had the impact of a true catastrophe like Haiti, I was often told things like "we'll get back to covering the wars soon." The problem is that the fighting continues, and troops in Afghanistan and Iraq can't take a timeout. The way I see it, the media ran out of timeouts a long time ago.

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