Media coverage of war is overkill
March 31, 2003
I am in shock and awe of the media’s coverage of Gulf War II — and it is only day 13.
On the first Saturday of this invasion I witnessed a journalist in broad daylight reporting a firefight between coalition forces and Iraqis. Instead of being a bad B movie, it was CNN.
I left the room.
It is not so much that I cannot deal with the realities of war. It is more that I cannot deal with the way my profession is handling the war. It is more like a ratings war than one where men and women are dying.
I have no memory of the Vietnam War, which means the extent of war coverage that I have witnessed is from 12 years ago, when the first Bush commanded our troops to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
This was when CNN put itself on the map of must-see TV. It was when Bernard Shaw was reporting from Baghdad under a desk; the place he felt most safe as the outside world came crashing in around him.
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I realize we all have the option to turn off the television, to play CDs in our vehicles, to turn newspaper pages to something else. I wonder how many people are tuning out the coverage or are being overstimulated by it.
We have the television on all day at work — hoping a breaking news alert will flash the death or capture of Saddam. Most days I read three other papers. In my Jeep I make it a point to listen to the news at the top of the hour.
Yes, I am already tired of the war. I know the media have an obligation to cover the war. It is our war, our family and friends fighting and dying, our billions of tax dollars funding it.
What I disagree with is the round-the-clock coverage. I disagree with my former employer’s decision to keep wrapping a 12-page special war section around the main paper. Who is this helping? I ask this even though I would love to be a war correspondent and I like reading the stories from Iraq that a good friend from the Chronicle keeps writing.
Is it all about advertising dollars? Is this a business decision or a consumer decision?
I am the last person to say the media should be stifled. But we should be self-regulated.
Less can be more.
If we all end up tuning out the war, whether we agree with it or not, we end up abandoning our beliefs. We stop caring. And that would be the worst thing that could happen.
We need responsible, accurate media coverage. We need to see POWs on both sides. We need to see fighting. But we need it in a responsible manner.
It belongs on the front page of major metropolitan dailies and sometimes on the cover of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. But there needs to be other stories on A1 of all papers. It belongs as the lead story on TV news, but should not be lost in other issues of the day.
I wonder if the 24-hour cable channels have forgotten there is other news out there. NBC is banking on its coverage — besides network coverage it owns MSNBC, CNBC, a Spanish network and news Web site msnbc.com. CBS has already said it will preempt basketball coverage for war. I think we’d all rather see some hoops instead of another station with war coverage.
I hear about the news reels of World War II that were shown. I hear about Vietnam being on the nightly news. Both were in the newspapers. Both gripped our nation, holding our attention for years. I fear all this coverage will desensitize us and we will forget the harsh realities of war. It is beginning to resemble a video game and not reality.
There is enough proof that ours is a society that collectively seems to have attention deficit disorder. The barrage of war coverage will make us wish Monica Lewinsky or Gary Condit would creep back into the headlines.
The media has a responsibility to give people what they want and what they need. This overabundance of war coverage fails on both accounts.
— To clarify something from last week’s column — in the editing process it made it seem like my dad’s name is Stephen and he is a minister. His name is Don, he is a Stephen minister, something lay people can do in the Presbyterian church.
— Kathryn Reed is managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (530) 541-3880, ext. 251.
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