Balance needed for coverage of Iraq War
The object of this column is not to give an opinion on whether our country should be involved in the military occupation of Iraq or not, or to try and discern whether President Bush and his cabinet and generals did, or did not, have the proper agenda when we invaded Iraq in March 2003, but rather is to question the national media coverage of the Iraq War and attempt to give perspective on the reality of what is happening there.
Being in business of information distribution, part of my duty, as I see it, is to research what state and national stories other media are reporting on, how they are reporting on it and how we can localize, or make it relevant, to the local reader. Part of that duty is a daily review of area, state and national newspapers and web sites.
More often then not, the national media, such as CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post and The New York Times report on every death in Iraq, military or civilian, as their top story. You can't watch the evening news anymore without a brief on an insurgent attack that killed or wounded “x” number of Iraqis or coalition forces.
The reality is that while we are at war and people are dying, the numbers, while still concerning, in the grand scheme of things are not as prevalent as the national media makes them out to be, especially when you compare them to, say, drunk driving deaths or the US murder rate. I admit that a death in war is different from a drunk driving death or domestic murder death, but each results in a life being lost, a tragedy in of itself.
CNN reported Monday that since the US invaded Iraq March 19, 2003, 2,768 coalition forces have lost their lives in combat. Of that number, 2,543 have been American deaths.
The independent web site iraqbodycount.net, which the BBC called “a respected database run by a group academics and peace activists” reported Monday that the war in Iraq had caused a maximum of 43,397 civilian deaths from both coalition military action and insurgent (or home grown or sanctioned terrorist) attacks.
So a good estimate of deaths caused by the US invasion and occupation of Iraq is about 46,000 or an average of 15,333 per year since the US invaded Iraq.
What you don't see the national news media reporting on with the same vigor as what I describe above is that according to alcoholalert.com, in 2004 there were 16,694 alcohol- related driving deaths in the US and the FBI reports on their web site that 16,137 Americans were murdered in 2004.
So the reality is, based on the numbers, that more people die each year in alcohol related driving deaths and murders than have died each year, on average, in the Iraq War.
Why has the national media not taken the same approach to covering drunk driving and murder deaths as they have the Iraq War? Probably for the same reason that state media (newspapers and television) seem to prefer reporting on the “bad” things that happen in other places rather than in their own back yard. I believe it's also due to the reality that we're fighting an unpopular war that many of our allies (and non-allies) condemn us for which makes for good copy.
It would be amazing to see how many of the nearly 33,000 Americans who will murdered or die in alcohol-related driving accidents this year could be saved if the national media would focus on the tragedy that they are with the same emphasis as they do the Iraq War. The sad truth is that we'll never know because it will never happen. It's simply not relevant to the “mainstream media.”
I realize that taking the perspective I have, breaking human tragedy down to numbers, may not be seen by many as the best approach to analyzing media coverage of the Iraqi War, but it does add perspective to an ongoing conflict and the way it is being presented to the world.
Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Greenville Advocate. He can be reached at 383-9302, ext. 125, or by email: email@example.com.