Along the Tracks

Wednesday, February 01, 2006
 

The media's tunnel vision

Granted, with a headline like that, I could be talking about anything.

In this case, I'm talking about the Bob Woodruff coverage.

First, a few points in defense of the mainstream media, particularly the networks. Even though journalists are supposed to step back from the emotions of their personal relationships when reporting news, that's not easy. The television reporters, producers and editors on East Coast are a fairly small group, and over time they get to know each other well. When one of their own suffers a crisis, particularly if it is job-related, they all feel obligated to report it in depth. This is not necessarily a mistake on their part; Americans do care about the people they see on TV each night, and appreciate being informed of their trials and tribulations.

Yet, far too often, the media goes completely overboard, bonkers really, and glorifies the "work" and the "humanity" and the "bravery" of one of their own to the expense of people who, quite frankly, are more worthy of the accolades. A buzz is growing among Americans who have now been force-fed wall-to-wall Woodruff for days. This UPI story only scratches the surface, by noting the continued frustrations of troops and their commanders in Iraq, who do real work under a constant, very real threat - and are given practically no credit. The blogosphere is beginning to pick up on the simmering resentment against the media among ordinary Americans here at home - not a surprise, since most bloggers are ordinary Americans.

On Monday night, my brother stopped in for a while and it turned into a wide-ranging discussion over a 12-pack. He was more than "simmering" over the Woodruff coverage. He was downright angry. He's young enough to have friends serving in the armed forces, and works with our brother-in-law, who did a tour in Afghanistan. My brother gets to hear first hand the grueling labor - and the mortal dangers - America's fighting men and women face every day they wake up. I imagine he gets a bit of a chill when he hears it: "There, but for the grace of God, go I."

He's not particularly political (my interest in politics is a sad, genetic mutation), but he recognizes when he's getting the shaft. And he feels it right now, every time some TV reporter starts into the latest warm-and-fuzzy tribute to a guy who reads out loud for a living. A guy who wasn't even killed, just wounded. A guy who didn't have to be in Iraq, who wasn't there to help Iraq or the troops, who worked for an establishment which appears to glorify violence at every turn.

In all the reports on the tragic bombing which injured Bob Woodruff and his cameraman, how many mentions have you heard of the Iraqis who were protecting him. In the television reports, I haven't noticed even one. I read in an initial story that there were several Iraqi casualties, but had never seen or heard another reference until I looked it up today: one wounded Iraqi soldier. The source? The Army News Service. I can't claim I looked through every story Google News turned up, but I looked through quite a few, from the day of the attack (Sunday) on, and this was the only one which mentioned the Iraqi.

Even the UPI columnist who wrote about frustration in the military over the Woodruff coverage couldn't bring herself to tell us about the Iraqi.

Would that young Iraqi soldier have been at the spot where the IED went off whether Woodruff was around or not? Who knows? It has been pointed out that the insurgents and terrorists watch who is passing by before setting off their explosives, to aim for maximum impact. Woodruff and Doug Vogt, the cameraman also injured, were both standing up outside the armor of their personnel carrier, so it's quite possible the bomber triggered the IED when he saw the exposed men. If the camera was out in plain site, it becomes even more likely the TV crew "drew" the attack.

Regardless, that Iraqi soldier was performing a duty - to protect an American news crew - which endangered his life. Why are his "work" and "humanity" and "bravery" not worthy of at least a couple stories?

And why are the thousands of killed and wounded Americans given a photo and a quick blurb (at absolute most), despite the incredible sacrifices they have made for the very reporters ignoring them?

When Christian Science Monitor journalist Jill Carroll was kidnapped a couple weeks back, there was a roundtable on "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer" about the dangers of reporting in Iraq. Lara Logan of CBS News was quite emotional about the criticisms leveled at journalists for their "hotel room coverage" of Iraq, with most reports and video actually collected by Iraqis under their pay. In particular, she was upset about suggestions the reporters fail to present a balanced picture of Iraq, focusing on violence and death while ignoring successes. Paraphrasing, she basically said, "Every time we go out we could get killed. We aren't going to risk our lives to report on a new bridge that was fine before the U.S. bombed it or the clearing of terrorists who weren't there until after the invasion."

To me, this self-centered comment is the heart of the problem exposed by the Woodruff coverage. American and Iraqi soldiers are risking their lives every single day to rebuild those bridges, clear out those terrorists, protect those schools and mosques, bring together political and religious factions for bargaining, teach those policemen, guide those city councils and trial courts - and guard those journalists. They can't reject any of those duties, because they've sworn an oath. Journalists don't have an oath, perhaps, but they do have ethical requirements and duties to the public. Logan's comment was a bald-faced rejection of such requirements. Today's journalists want the "glamour" of war coverage without the danger. When the danger sneaks in, they typically blame their defenders rather than the attackers.

America's armed services personnel have volunteered to face the dangers because they believe in the cause of freedom and wish to defend it. Journalists once had similar, if more narrowly focused, goals. Today, they seem to be all about themselves and their opinions, not the important role they should be fulfilling. Average Americans - even those like my brother who do not follow the news and politics closely - are waking up to the mainstream media's betrayal of its responsibilities.



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