Covering War, and Also Ignoring It

Last week, Projo columnist Bob Kerr wrote about the disproportionate attention given to journalists killed or wounded in the war zone in Iraq. His point is not that journalists receive too much attention, but that regular soldiers receive too little…

A television news crew gets hit by a car bomb. And the war in Iraq gets moved to the front page.
The explosion, during another bloody day in Baghdad, killed CBS cameraman Paul Douglas and soundman James Brolan. It seriously injured reporter Kimberly Dozier.
And, oh, by the way, an American soldier was also killed in the blast. His or her name was not included in the story. This war, this horrible muddle, continues its strange and frustrating presence on the fringe of public awareness. The birth of the child of two vapid celebrities will claim far more attention than the death of thousands in a war gone brutally out of control.
Capt. James A. Funkhouser was the soldier killed alongside the journalists.
Kerr offers two explanations for what he believes to be underreporting of events in Iraq. First, he believes that war coverage is being improperly “controlled” by the American military…
[Dozier] has pushed the war news into higher visibility by becoming part of it.
She has done it while covering the war in the masterfully controlled way that has allowed the military to keep so much of the carnage out of public view….
Horror stories occasionally slip through the control net, but it will be a long, long time before we know all there is to know.
Second, Kerr suggests that dangers inherent in a war zone place a limit on the ability of journalists to fully report on what is important…
We don’t see reporters moving around Iraq as reporters moved around Vietnam. We see the war in very narrow focus. It is partly because of imbedding, partly because the country is so terrifyingly unpredictable. There is apparently no place totally secure, no place where murder and kidnapping are not a possibility.
If, as Kerr speculates, American “control” of journalists is as serious a problem limiting the scope of war reporting as is the nature of war itself, then a conflict without the “controlling” American presence should receive more complete coverage, right?
So how then is the dearth of coverage of a war like the current civil war in the Congo, where the US has no “control” of any sort, explained? As Time magazine describes in its coverage of “The Deadliest War in the World“…
Simmering conflict in Congo has killed 4 million people since 1998, yet few choose to cover the story. Time looks at a forgotten nation — and what’s needed to prevent the deaths of millions more.
A key difference between Iraq and the Congo, of course, is that Americans are fighting and dying in Iraq, but not in the Congo. But is that the full extent of the discussion? Does the lack of American involvement in a war, no matter how brutal, justify not covering it? This result of this version of blood-and-soil nationalistic thinking runs counter to the reasonable rule-of-thumb laid out by Kerr at the start of his column — out-of-control wars deserve more coverage than “the birth of the child of two vapid celebrities”. By this standard, the civil war in the Congo should defintiely receive more coverage than it does. That it doesn’t has nothing to do with any supposed military “control” of journalists. Bob Kerr needs to look beyond blaming-America’s-military-first to explain why violent conflict doesn’t always get the scale of coverage it merits.
One final point: a widespread willingness to ignore national-scale violence, so long as Americans are not involved is what makes the position of withdraw-from-Iraq and damn-the-consequences held by politicians like Carl Sheeler and Sheldon Whitehouse so deeply unsatisfying. The idea of making violence in Iraq easier to ignore, because once America is no longer directly involved, Iraq won’t get very much coverage, is not a sound basis for American foreign policy.

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