Accuracy in Media

It was big news that the number of American soldiers killed in Iraq after the conclusion of major combat operations has surpassed the number killed during the war itself. In fact, however, as Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld told the VFW convention, the war produced “fewer casualties and less destruction than probably any war in history.” The media, especially cable news organizations, are focusing on daily attacks on U.S. soldiers. “Each setback in Iraq is repeated and repeated and repeated,” Rumsfeld said, “as if it were 10 or 20 setbacks.”

Conditioned by the media’s gloom-and-doom reporting, the latest Newsweek poll finds that just 13 percent say U.S. efforts to establish security and rebuild Iraq have gone very well since May 1, when combat officially ended. On Meet the Press, host Tim Russert said, “It couldn’t be more serious.” He suggested that the situation was deteriorating so quickly that the U.S. may have to bring back the military draft. On the CBS Evening News, anchor John Roberts said the conflict had “no end in sight.”

The media refuse to emphasize that there are already more than 50,000 Iraqis under arms that are working in coordination with the U.S. They include 35,000 in the Iraqi police forces, 2,300 in a civil-defense corps, and 17,000 security guards hired to defend infrastructure.

Writer Gwynne Dyer notes that U.S. casualties have been concentrated in the so-called “Sunni triangle” where Saddam Hussein’s ruling Baath Party had the deepest roots. Sunni Muslims account for only about 20 per cent of Iraq’s population. American deaths in this region have been running at about five a week. Dyer says that if you run this average forward for 16 months, President Bush would have to account for another 350 American military deaths by next year’s presidential election, on top of the 280 that have already occurred.

Any loss is tragic. However, the number of U.S. troops dead from the war in Iraq is just slightly more than the number of Americans who died from West Nile Virus last year. The disease killed 284 people in 2002 and a total of 4,100 were infected by it. This year, there is the potential for a record-breaking number of cases. So far, health officials report 1,442 human cases and 21 deaths. This doesn’t sound like a lot, but the number of cases reported nationally has almost doubled since August 21 and late summer is when most people are stricken with the disease. The West Nile season extends into late October.

Contrast Iraq to the war in Vietnam, when 350 Americans were dying in combat every week in 1968. To put this further into context, 40,000 Americans die in traffic accidents every year. There are 18,000 homicides, and about 300 Americans die from lightning strikes annually.

The Iraq comparison with Vietnam may be valid when analyzing media coverage. American Legion Magazine has published an article by Jim Bohannon, the talk show host who served in Vietnam in 1967-68 with the 199th Light Infantry Brigade. He writes that the communist strategy of “winning away from the battlefield worked?an especially fortunate circumstance for the communist cause, since they never came close to winning on the battlefield against U.S. forces.” Bohannon cites coverage of the Tet offensive, when a U.S. military victory was depicted as a success by the communists. He says American reporters “exaggerated the power and popularity of the Viet Cong” and provided the American people “gloomy media depictions” about progress of the war. Bohannon concludes, “No matter how one feels about the war, few can deny that the enemy would have approved of the coverage.”

Bohannon notes that former CBS Evening News anchorman Walter Cronkite wrote with apparent pride in his own memoirs that, “The daily coverage of the Vietnamese battlefield helped convince the American public that the carnage was not worth the candle.” One has to consider that the gloom and doom coverage of the Iraq war is also designed to force a U.S. withdrawal and another American humiliation. At the very least, liberal Democrats carping about Iraq hope to wound President Bush politically and force him to turn the country over to the United Nations.

A left-wing campaign called “Bring Them Home Now” has been launched to bring U.S. soldiers home from Iraq because of the military casualties there. But here in the U.S. they would face a disease called West Nile Virus that the federal government is doing little to prevent. The federal Centers for Disease Control runs an ineffective “Fight the Bite” campaign suggesting that people use insect repellant, cover up, or stay indoors

This “war at home” is being won by the mosquitoes, even though we have the means?pesticides such as DDT?to achieve victory. Why isn’t there any media outrage over this?

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