The ‘Peculiar’ Disappearance of Iraq Coverage

By: E&P Staff

In his Sunday op-ed column for The New York Times, Frank Rich laments what the headline calls “The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq.” He means in the media — but singles out TV, not newspapers.

Rich sets it up recalling a joke. Back in the Vietnam era, comedian Milton Berle said that the fastest way to end the war would be to put it on the then-struggling network, ABC, where it was certain to be canceled. “Berle?s gallows humor lives on in the quagmire in Iraq,” Rich declares. “Americans want this war canceled too, and first- and last-place networks alike are more than happy to oblige.

“CNN will surely remind us today that it is Day 19 of the Israel-Hezbollah war ? now branded as Crisis in the Middle East ? but you won?t catch anyone saying it?s Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks? evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. On Thursday, Brian Williams of NBC read aloud a ‘shame on you’ e-mail complaint from the parents of two military sons anguished that his broadcast had so little news about the war.

“This is happening even as the casualties in Iraq, averaging more than 100 a day, easily surpass those in Israel and Lebanon combined.

“The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn?t happenstance. It?s a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer…. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

“The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched off Iraq. The larger issue is that we don?t know what we ? or, more specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops ? are fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. It?s a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot.”

The rest of the column is available at www.nytimes.com via TimesSelect.

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