Wednesday, April 18, 2007

 

Media Bias: Dead Students Trump Dead Soldiers

I had wanted to get this post up a day ago, but the rigors of competing in the great American fiction writing contest, otherwise known as the federal income tax filing deadline (yeah, I know, I'm a procrastinator), and some interesting research into dream theory kept me more than busy enough yesterday.

The 32 deaths at Virginia Tech are surely a tragedy worthy of our attention, remorse and sharing in the grief of the families of the victims. The murder rampage was an horrific act perpetrated by a deranged individual who apparently needed psychiatric medical attention more than the right to buy handguns.

But the media coverage of the tragedy bordered on pandering and sensationalism in its most overt form. On Tuesday, a day after the awful event, all three major networks (ABC, CBS, NBC) expanded their usual half-hour nightly news programs to an hour to provide wall-to-wall coverage of the aftermath, the grief, the President's visit and speech. PBS devoted their entire news hour to coverage of the Virginia Tech tragedy.

The networks also each aired special reports on the story, grasping desperately for every last heart-string and crushed emotion.

I, for one, found no good reason to immerse myself in the media spasm and could not bring myself to watch. There was nothing newsworthy in rehashing these morbid events.

But the networks' coverage got me to thinking about death, Americans and the media. Why is it that a senseless tragedy such as this merits additional coverage when our military routinely loses that many American soldiers - many of them roughly the same age - every two weeks in Iraq?

Are the students more deserving of our attention and grief than the soldiers? The students were victims, unsuspecting and innocent. The soldiers who die in Iraq (to say nothing of the countless Iraqi civilian deaths) are ostensibly putting their lives on the line for the rest of us. They deserve at least the same coverage by the media, if not more - more focused, more poignant, more probing - than the sobbing narration that substituted for journalism these past two days.

I offer no apologies for the media's choices, nor do they, but perhaps events such as those in Blacksburg, Virginia are easier to cover than those in Baghdad, Iraq. The networks can get more reporters, film crews and staff in place much more quickly and efficiently than to the arrival points of the flag-draped caskets from Iraq. (The sad fact is that the media is barred from covering the homecomings of dead soldiers by the government.)

As I grieve for the students, I grieve for the soldiers and their families who are not given rightful respect and honor even in their deaths. These too are sons and daughters, some mothers and fathers, yet when they die, the American public is hardly made aware.

Maybe a picture and a name may be flashed across the screen some days later. PBS does this most often on Fridays and ABC regularly displays the names of the fallen on their Sunday news show, This Week. But that is all the coverage they get, when they deserve so much more.

The truth is that Americans are mostly ashamed of the war in Iraq. A majority of us want our military to stop the carnage and come home, but the best the media can do is ignore the dead and report the routine killing of Iraqis and Americans in the loathsome maw of war.

Shame on them.

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