Thursday, June 02, 2005

Are Media Outlets Obsessed with Iraq Body Counts?

The top story on this morning was about a string of suicide car bombs in Iraq that killed 16. This is not unusual—either the bombing or the fact that a bombing is the top story.

Iraq is still very violent and is, in many respects, still a war zone, albeit a modern, asymmetric war zone. No wonder Bush said Wednesday that he fears for Americans in Iraq. Suicide bombings happen nearly every day and can strike in nearly any area.

But should those bombings always be the top news story? Is it surprising news that there’s violence in Iraq? Some on the right would probably claim that the media put these stories at the top because journalists are out to erode support for the war. But I think it’s something much less devious.

The eight hour time difference between Iraq and the East Coast of the U.S. means that, when a bomb goes off in the morning in Baghdad, that’s about the most newsworthy event to happen before 6:00 a.m. Eastern time in the U.S. It’s just easier for the media to lead off with fresh violence than it is to find any other important story.

I even wonder if the insurgents/terrorists have learned to time their attacks early enough in the Iraqi day to ensure maximum coverage as Americans wake up. Even if the terrorists aren’t trying to manipulate the American media, I still think CNN, AP, NBC and all the other news outlets would do well to avoid the urge of making violence in Iraq the top story every morning. They should definitely report on it, but what purpose does it serve for Americans to wake up every day and hear the most recent body count in a war we are well aware is bloody?

There is a fine line between overexposure of the war and under-reporting. The last thing we want are the costs of the war hidden from us. But nor do we want the negative aspects magnified by over-reporting of the violence. In fact, I’d rather wake up to a detailed analysis of a specific problem or success in Iraq rather than waking up to another rote report about a bombing. Body counts aren’t the only way to cover a war.

And violence in war is not necessarily the most newsworthy story every morning. Our media can do better.


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