Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Barack the basic cable star






How is it possible for a country to be at war on two fronts for nearly a decade and not be plunged into constant fits of epic soul-searching? Whatever trick of light makes it possible to pretend "We, the People" have nothing to do with wars waged in our name overseas also blinds us to its tragic legacies at home.
In a little more than two weeks, a nation suffering from willful amnesia about Iraq and Afghanistan will either vote for new representatives who share their myopia -- or retain those incumbents most skilled at exploiting it.
If polls are to be believed, these wars are too low on the list of voter priorities to prompt much turnout on Election Day. Although more than a trillion dollars has been spent on the wars, that's an unthinkable abstraction to the vast majority of us.
The column comes on the heels of Tom Brokaw's "The Wars That America Forgot About" (New York Times):
Notice anything missing on the campaign landscape?
How about war? The United States is now in its ninth year of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the longest wars in American history. Almost 5,000 men and women have been killed. More than 30,000 have been wounded, some so gravely they're returning home to become, effectively, wards of their families and communities.
In those nine years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion on combat operations and other parts of the war effort, including foreign aid, reconstruction projects, embassy costs and veterans' health care. And the end is not in sight.
So why aren't the wars and their human and economic consequences front and center in this campaign, right up there with jobs and taxes?
So did the people forget or did the press forget? Jared Hunt's article (West Virginia's Daily Mail Capitol Reporter) on the US Senate race between Joe Manchin and Governor John Raese appears to indicate that, when asked, candidates will discuss the Iraq War. Manchin terms it a distraction "with a tremendous cost to human life, the personal tragedies that the families had to endure, and the financial cost of this mission." Raese speaks of his opposition to "adherence to rules of engagement in combat" (which would put him at odds with the Pentagon's official position) and asserts that the US military in Iraq has been forced to conduct "a politically correct war". The two columns argue a point similar to the one made last Friday on the second hour of The Diane Rehm Show (NPR):
Gordon Lubold: Well I don't disagree but it's just that you are not hearing that as part of the conversation. Even the veterans who are running for seats in the House are not -- that's not resonating. People are not paying attention to the fact -- And this is different from two years ago, uh, when the surge in Iraq was-was topic A and everybody wanted to weigh in about it. It's just not as much of an issue.
For more of that exchange, you can see Friday's snapshot. From Third's "Editorial: Media bites the people," "'It's just not as much of an issue.' The Iraq War vanished from TV. Most newspaper no longer have even a one-person Baghdad bureau. But somehow, Lubold wants you to know, the public just stopped thinking about the Iraq War. How strange that is? That the media creates a vacuum and, after time, the public goes along?" It's not strange at all, as a response from the public. It's very strange that the US media largelly withdrew from Iraq and now journalists want to act puzzled that people aren't focused on a war that few bother to report on.
PEW doesn't even bother to do their yearly (at least yearly) report on how Iraq's fallen off the media radar. But if there's no coverage, there's little awareness. This is reflected in past PEW reports. Take March 12, 2008 when PEW found only 27% of adults surveyed were aware of the general number (4,000) of US service members who had died in Iraq -- down 26% from the previous year. What else was down during that time period? News coverage and, as PEW noted, "As news coverage of the war has diminished, so too has public interrest in news about Iraq."
NPR is supposed to be reporting from Iraq. It's in the budget. They've had to justify that budget. So it's surprising that 'continuing' coverage translates these days into one or two reports a month. I don't think anyone thought 'continue' would mean one or two reports a month. Kelly McEvers last aired report was October 6th. That's 12 days ago. (And click here, an NPR friend says a report will air on All Things Considered today.) (McEvers and others have had reports from Iraq that were offered in tiny bits at the top of the hour news. There was one Monday, in fact, on Nouri going to Tehran.) The only significant thing since then has been Steve Inskeep's discussion on Iraq with Peter Kenyon (Morning Edition, October 8th). And look at the other programs NPR has. Where's Iraq? Where? And the programs they carry? On Point with Tom Ashbrook? It last covered Iraq when? What about To The Point? We can go through all the programs. The answers are not pretty. (PRI actually has covered Iraq, you can especially refer to PRI's The World this month.) It gets even uglier when you go to network so-called news and pick up nothing on Iraq but a bunch of crap like "car surfing" gets air time. It's disgusting. The American people can't follow what's not covered. Accusing them of disinterest when the press refuses to cover a topic is really sad and, honestly, weak. It, after all, takes some guts to call out the press but to attack 'we the people'? It's a breeze, it always has been which is why one blowhard after another hectors the people while refusing to call out the ones in charge of coverage.

September 3rd, Poynter published an internal AP memo written by Tom Kent, the AP's Deputy Managing Editor for Standards and Production,
Whatever the subject, we should be correct and consistent in our description of what the situation in Iraq is. This guidance summarizes the situation and suggests wording to use and avoid.
To begin with, combat in Iraq is not over, and we should not uncritically repeat suggestions that it is, even if they come from senior officials. The situation on the ground in Iraq is no different today than it has been for some months. Iraqi security forces are still fighting Sunni and al-Qaida insurgents. Many Iraqis remain very concerned for their country's future despite a dramatic improvement in security, the economy and living conditions in many areas.
As for U.S. involvement, it also goes too far to say that the U.S. part in the conflict in Iraq is over. President Obama said Monday night that "the American combat mission in Iraq has ended. Operation Iraqi Freedom is over, and the Iraqi people now have lead responsibility for the security of their country."
However, 50,000 American troops remain in country. Our own reporting on the ground confirms that some of these troops, especially some 4,500 special operations forces, continue to be directly engaged in military operations. These troops are accompanying Iraqi soldiers into battle with militant groups and may well fire and be fired on.
In addition, although administration spokesmen say we are now at the tail end of American involvement and all troops will be gone by the end of 2011, there is no guarantee that this will be the case.
Our stories about Iraq should make clear that U.S. troops remain involved in combat operations alongside Iraqi forces, although U.S. officials say the American combat mission has formally ended. We can also say the United States has ended its major combat role in Iraq, or that it has transferred military authority to Iraqi forces. We can add that beyond U.S. boots on the ground, Iraq is expected to need U.S. air power and other military support for years to control its own air space and to deter possible attack from abroad.
Unless there is balancing language, our content should not refer to the end of combat in Iraq, or the end of U.S. military involvement. Nor should it say flat-out (since we can't predict the future) that the United States is at the end of its military role.
Other than AP, what outlet have you seen take those steps? And where are the watchdogs? At CJR they're writing defensive, bitchy posts about articles in Women's Wear Daily while wanting to pretend they're some sort of journalistic oversight body. Get real. They're nothing but another useless and mythical watercooler -- with half the intelligence and none of the pertinence. They haven't done a thing of value online that they can point to in the last two years.

RECOMMENDED: "Iraq snapshot"
"Bombings slam Iraq"
"8th US soldier to die in Iraq War since 'combat' ended"
"Desperate Housewives"
"Comic and sexist Terry"
"the rallies, the occupation"
"The View"
"Go long"
"Campaign mode"
"Only an outsider would have done that"
"Someone needs some help"
"Norman strikes out, Danny gets a triple"
"Any takers?"

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