The Media Quagmire
The mainstream media understands the war in Iraq only through casualty counts and the Vietnam lens.
12:00 AM, Aug 29, 2005 • By SCOTT W. JOHNSON
I'm following up on a conversation during this morning's editors meeting. I feel we could be doing a better job covering the Iraq War on the home front. Like most newspapers, we do a good job of covering the extremes, such as the deaths of Minnesotans in this war. But we often fall short in covering the daily stress and drama that the war produces in our community. I don't necessarily think we need to have a reporter assigned to this but I think the paper and our readers would benefit if all of us looked for interesting war angles on our beats. Examples: How are schools covering the war in the classroom? Are recruiters more or less welcome these days? Junior ROTC more or less popular? Do families with loved ones abroad have special financial considerations that a biz story could explore? Are returning soldiers finding it difficult going back to office jobs? Are returning soldiers joining local VFW's? Is the reaction returning soldiers different from those received by Persian Gulf vets?
We've done good work. The coverage of the three Minnesota deaths in one day was superb. So was Jeremy's story on soldiers recovering from brain injuries at the VA. The soldier surprising mom at school made a terrific photo and was a great slice of life. I'm just wondering if there is more we can do . . .
(Mary Katharine Ham told the Yost story--and its sequel--in a highly entertaining column for Townhall.)
Early in August New York Times reporter Katharine Q. Seelye also addressed the issue of the media's coverage of the war in a piece headlined "Editors ponder how to present a broad picture of Iraq." Seelye's article was followed in turn by the Tampa Tribune's August 21 feature package on war coverage. The lead piece in the Tampa Tribune's package was a long article by editorial page editor Rosemary Goudreau that seriously addressed Yost's criticism of the press's war coverage.
UNLIKE THE VIETNAM ERA, however, this time around there are independent media to provide contrast to the mainstream media. Last week, web journalist Michael Yon posted perhaps the single most dramatic piece of Iraq war coverage to date: "Gates of fire." Yon's coverage resonated even in such antiwar bastions as the Seattle Times and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. It is possible that Yon's reportage might remind serious reporters what real war journalism looks like. Hint: It is not merely a daily drumbeat of fatalities and futility.
The stakes are large. As Paul Weaver wrote in 1977 in his review of Big Story: "A politicized press speaking the language of news is an instrument of propaganda, and such an institution does not foster democracy, but erodes it."
Scott Johnson is a contributing writer to THE DAILY STANDARD and a contributor to the blog Power Line.