Newspapers are unable, seemingly, to discriminate between a bicycle accident and the collapse of civilization.
--George Bernard Shaw
The news media has been focusing an astounding amount of attention on the death of a former playboy playmate and troubled reality tv star. No offense to the memory of Anna Nicole Smith, or to her friends, family, loved ones, and fans. Truly. It's understandable that news outlets would report her death. And yes, her death was more than a mere bicycle accident. But on the day after her death was reported, it was still "Breaking News", on every "news" channel, and front page news in hundreds of papers. It was speculation galore, the coroner giving scanty information about the ongoing investigation and autopsy, and a bunch of brouhaha about whether the drugs found in her room were illegal or not. It went on and on, and is still going on several days later.
Yes, it's tragic that she died, but what about the troops dying in Iraq almost every single day? Do they get the kind of attention that Smith's death, and life, have garnered? Are their lives, and deaths, less meaningful?
And it wasn't just television's network news and CNN and MSNBC and FOX (no surprise there), it was on the front page of newspapers like The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times.
Tim Rutten, of the LA Times, gives an interesting explanation of why Smith hit the front pages of so many newspapers:
"The mainstream journalistic coverage of Smith's death is among the first such stories driven, in large part, by an editorial perception of public interest derived mainly from Internet traffic. Throughout the afternoon Thursday, editors across the country watched the number of 'hits' recorded for online items about Smith's death. These days, it's the rare newspaper whose meeting to discuss the content of the next day's edition doesn't include a recitation of the most popular stories on the paper's website. It's a safe bet that those numbers helped shove Anna Nicole Smith onto a lot of front pages."
Who knew our internet surfing habits were so influential?
You know what would be really revolutionary in the world of breaking news, and news reporting in general? If, every time a soldier died in this illegal war we're mired in, the media would give them as much attention as they give so-called celebrities. If our media really supports the troops, their actions should show it. And if we really support the troops, we should demand that they do.
What if the media gave each military fatality the same attention they've given Smith? And what if they asked the following questions every single time someone died in this war? Questions like:
What took this person to war in the first place?
On what grounds was he or she there?
For what noble cause did they die?
The media will question at length if illegal drugs were found in a "reality" tv star's hotel room. And show video and photos of her methadone stocked refrigerator. But when it comes to a reality with far greater and crucial consequences to, arguably, all of humanity, they are mostly silent. They should be asking why faulty intelligence and manufactured reasons and ulterior motives were used to start an illegal war of aggression in a foreign land. They should be asking why this illegal war of aggression has been allowed to squander--and continues to do so daily--our military, its good men and women, our country's credibility, its ability to take care of business at home, its safety, and billions and billions and billions of our dollars. Instead of showing us video of Smith's refrigerator, they should show us video of what war looks like. Of its consequences. This is the news we may not want--just like a child might not want to eat her vegetables--but it's the dose of news, and reality, we need.
Perhaps they might continue by asking more questions.
How did the soldier die?
Had he or she been supplied with all the appropriate safety gear?
Had he or she been supplied with all the critical information necessary to fight in another country's civil war?
What about the grieving family and friends he or she left behind?
Again, what about the manufactured intelligence that was used to begin this illegal war of aggression?
And, what should the consequences be for those responsible for leading us to, and keeping us involved in, this manufactured and illegal war?
That would be a few questions for starters. I'm sure those who have lost--or will lose--a loved one in this illegal war could, and have, and will, come up with many more.
Unfortunately, we can't expect that serious questions and focus will become the new modus operandi of the news media anytime soon. Can't keep the masses brain dead, and thirsting to consume, if they're faced with the real news and encouraged to start asking real questions themselves. Jeepers, what would happen if we started thinking and questioning? You see, it probably isn't so much that they're feeding us what they think we want to eat. When we care about our children's health, do we feed them whatever they ask for? No, the media likes it that we eat crap. It keeps us less than healthy . . . and distracted . . . and buying all the products and propaganda that they and their companies are selling.
So that's why we have to become the media. Like Amy Goodman said, we have to "go to where the silence is and say something."
I've also been thinking about what Molly Ivins said when she began her last series of columns:
"This will be a regular feature of mine, like an old-fashioned newspaper campaign. Every column, I'll write about this war until we find some way to end it. STOP IT NOW. BAM! Every day, we will review some factor we should have gotten right."
What Molly did was illustrate, in a way Molly did so well, that writing about the same issue regularly was a tactic that worked, and was necessary. Sure, it's a play right out of Joseph M. Goebbel's play book, "Tell a lie that is big enough, and repeat it often enough, and the whole world will believe it." Except in this case, it's truth being told, and just one of many that have to be told in order to counter all the lies.
In this age of so much dross and garbage and misinformation and distraction and lies, it's imperative to tell the truth again and again and again. Bigger and bigger. Repeating and repeating and repeating it. Making the ridiculous look more ridiculous. So that the message finally gets heard. And so that once the message is finally heard, the people will be moved to act. Both the people, and their representatives in Congress.
Like it or not, we are the deciders. It's what our founding fathers envisioned after all. And we are shirking our patriotic duty when we do nothing, when we accept drivel and propaganda and constant distraction as truth, and as reality.
So let us commit ourselves to Molly's old fashioned newspaper campaign. Let us each commit to being the media. If the "breaking news" won't tell us who died in Iraq today, and why, we can each do our part to fill that void. We can take up part of the information highway with the news that really is important. And we can put pressure on the media to do its job.
Iraq war casualty data is available at icasualties.org and at the Department of Defense. But it also needs to be on the front pages of our nation's newspapers, and it should be the breaking news of our television networks and news broadcasts . . . every day until this illegal war is over. What Molly started, the rest of us should continue.
What would happen if the New York Times put on its front page, every single day, stories about the people who died in Iraq that day? Or that week? We need to insist that this issue be brought to the forefront of our nation's consciousness. It's not an issue for the back burner, or buried in some dark corner of the newspaper, or only on the pages of the deceased person's hometown paper, or passed over for more sensational but less than momentous stories of celebrities and their foibled lives.
Perhaps the more places we post it, and the more ways we pay attention to the names and details of all the precious lives being squandered in this illegal war (and that would continue to be squandered in greater numbers if we allow ourselves to be sold on any kind of attack on Iran), the more we can put a personal face on this war (and any potential future illegal wars) and build greater opposition and action against it (them).
And, maybe those editors trying to figure out what to print will take notice.
Let's start with writing The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, USA Today, CNN, MSNBC, and FOX (it never hurts to try), asking them to give as much focus and space to the brave men and women in the military who are dying nearly every day, as much time and space as they are giving to Anna Nicole Smith (or whatever celebrity or drivel that is taking up news space at the moment). And tell them to start asking the difficult questions about this war, and about the escalating talk (all a replay of what came before we invaded Iraq) of war or air attacks against Iran.
Imagine what might happen if hundreds, or thousands, or hundreds of thousands of us demanded this from our news media?
I'd like to personally commit to Molly's old fashioned campaign by posting weekly reports about the people dying in this illegal invasion to different locations on the internet. I will do so out of respect for the deceased, out of care for the living, and out of hope that in some small way it can help make the unnecessary dying stop. The focus will mostly be on American troop deaths, but will also hopefully begin to include information on coalition and Iraqi deaths as well.
I begin here by recognizing members of the United States Military who died in Iraq--as reported by the Department of Defense--in the first seven days of February 2007.
Petty Officer 1st Class Gilbert Minjares Jr., 31, of El Paso, Texas, and Petty Officer 3rd Class Manuel A. Ruiz, 21, of Federalsburg, Md., died Feb. 7 in a helicopter crash in Al Anbar Province, Iraq.
Sgt. Maj. Joseph J. Ellis, 40, of Ashland, Ohio, died Feb. 7 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Cpl. Jennifer M. Parcell, 20, of Bel Air, Md., died Feb. 7 while supporting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Sgt. Joshua J. Frazier, 24, of Spotsylvania, Va., died Feb. 6 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Lance Cpl. Brandon J. Van Parys, 20, of New Tripoli, Pa., died Feb. 5 while conducting combat operations in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Capt. Kevin C. Landeck, 26, of Illinois, died Feb. 2 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
Staff Sgt. Terrence D. Dunn, 38, of Houston died Feb. 2 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
Chief Warrant Officer Keith Yoakum, 41, of Hemet, Calif., and Chief Warrant Officer Jason G. Defrenn, 34, of Barnwell, S.C., died Feb. 2 in Taji, Iraq, of wounds suffered when their Apache helicopter was forced to land during combat operations.
Sgt. Randy J. Matheny, 20, of McCook, Neb., died Feb. 4 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
Cpl. Richard O. Quill III, 22, of Roswell, Ga., died Feb. 1 from a non-hostile cause in Al Anbar province, Iraq.
Staff Sgt. Ronnie L. Sanders, 26, of Thibodaux, La., died Feb. 3 in Baghdad, Iraq, of wounds sustained when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle.
Spc. Alan E. McPeek, 20, of Tucson, Ariz., and Pvt. Matthew T. Zeimer, 18, of Glendive, Mont. died Feb. 2 in Ramadi, Iraq, of injuries sustained when they came in contact with enemy forces using small arms fire.
Pfc. David C. Armstrong, 21, of Zanesville, Ohio, and Pfc. Kenneth T. Butler, 21, of East Liverpool, Ohio, died Feb. 1 in Baghdad, Iraq, of injuries suffered from a vehicular accident.
Sgt. Corey J. Aultz, 31, of Port Orchard, Wash., and Sgt. Milton A. Gist Jr., 27, of St Louis, died Jan. 30 at Ramadi, Iraq, of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near their vehicle during combat operations.
Spc. Eric R. Sieger, 18, of Layton, Utah, died Feb. 1 at Buritz, Iraq, of wounds suffered when his Bradley Fighting Vehicle rolled over.
These men and women--someone else's son or daughter, father or mother, husband or wife, friend or lover--deserve our attention, and the attention of the news media. As do all the other men and women still in Iraq.
To the nineteen men and one woman listed above, who died in the space of a week, and to all those who have died needlessly before you, may your lives and sacrifice be recognized, appreciated, and mourned appropriately. In your memory, in memory of the estimated 650,000 Iraqi civilians who have died since 2003, and for all those still fighting in, and living amidst, this illegal war, our rally cry will be: STOP IT NOW.
Originally published by Common Dreams on February 12, 2007.