FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Abstract Quality Journalism

The New York Times used three square inches of newsprint on Tuesday to dispatch two U.S. Army soldiers under the headline “Names of the Dead.” Their names — Peter K. Cross and Steven T. Drees — were listed along with hometowns, ranks and ages. Cross was 20 years old. Drees was 19.

They were, the newspaper reported, the latest of 706 Americans “who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations.” There wasn’t enough room for any numbers, names or ages of Afghans who have died as a part of the Afghan war and related operations.

That’s the way routine death stories go. But of course no amount of newsprint or airtime can do more than scratch the human surface. Reporting on life is like that, and reporting on death is like that: even more so when the media lenses are ground with ideology, nationalism and economic convenience.

But real grief isn’t like that. It twists and burns and has only names and adjectives unworthy of itself. That doesn’t stop many journalists or politicians from claiming to describe what’s beyond description.

A week before Peter K. Cross and Steven T. Drees were buried in a three-square-inch box on page A9 of the national edition, the New York Times editorialized about the war that killed them and 704 other members of the U.S. military. Years from now, media researchers and historians will view the date of that lead editorial, June 23, 2009, as a time when the American deaths in Afghanistan had not yet reached four digits and when the uncounted Afghan deaths were a lower uncounted number.

Beginning with its headline — “Afghanistan’s Failing Forces” — the editorial was replete with erudite lamentation (not to be confused with grief). The war has been managed so badly. Two authoritative sentences bookended the editorial: “The news from Afghanistan is grim.” And, “There is no more time to waste.”

The words in between were consistent with a grand tradition of press demands for more effective warfare. (“President Obama was right to send more American troops to fight. … The Taliban must be confronted head-on. … Building an effective Afghan Army is critical…”) Peering into their computer screens in Manhattan, the editorialists would have been more concise to simply write: “Let’s you and them fight.”

Some who went into battle have a very different perspective. “As an infantry rifleman in the Marines Corps, I saw so much of these wars through nightly patrols,” says Rick Reyes, a former Marine corporal who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. “We worked with translators whose sole interest in supplying us intelligence was to earn money and other forms of aid. We gathered information that often proved faulty. During a raid, we would ransack homes, breaking windows, doors, families, lives, chairs and tables, detaining and arresting anyone who seemed suspicious. In one case, we detained, beat, and nearly killed a man, only to realize he was merely trying to deliver milk to his children.”

Reyes speaks of a routine with “unconscionable acts of violence” and awful harm to civilians, whatever the differences in terrain: “These patrols were all the same, whether I was in the desolate desert terrain near Camp Rhino, the U.S.-led coalition’s first strategic foothold in Afghanistan, or stationed outside Basra in Iraq.”

When the Senate Foreign Relations Committee heard from Rick Reyes on April 23, he did a lot to shatter illusions with six minutes of testimony.

But the conventional wisdom of press and state insists that the U.S. war effort must do more than go on — it must escalate — in the name of human decency. The political rhetoric in Washington is close to 100 percent humanitarian, while the new supplemental infusion of U.S. spending for Afghanistan is 90 percent military.

Inside a contrived news frame, destruction can nurture life. In media myth, we can be well-informed and ignorant of war’s realities. Along the way, the benefits of numbed quiescence and muffled dissent are vastly overrated.

 

 

 

More articles by:

Norman Solomon is executive director of the Institute for Public Accuracy, where he coordinates ExposeFacts. Solomon is a co-founder of RootsAction.org.

Weekend Edition
September 21, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Hurricane Florence and 9.7 Million Pigs
Andrew Levine
Israel’s Anti-Semitism Smear Campaign
Paul Street
Laquan McDonald is Being Tried for His Own Racist Murder
Brad Evans
What Does It Mean to Celebrate International Peace Day?
Nick Pemberton
With or Without Kavanaugh, The United States Is Anti-Choice
Jim Kavanagh
“Taxpayer Money” Threatens Medicare-for-All (And Every Other Social Program)
Jonathan Cook
Palestine: The Testbed for Trump’s Plan to Tear up the Rules-Based International Order
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: the Chickenhawks Have Finally Come Back Home to Roost!
David Rosen
As the Capitalist World Turns: From Empire to Imperialism to Globalization?
Jonah Raskin
Green Capitalism Rears Its Head at Global Climate Action Summit
James Munson
On Climate, the Centrists are the Deplorables
Robert Hunziker
Is Paris 2015 Already Underwater?
Arshad Khan
Will Their Ever be Justice for Rohingya Muslims?
Jill Richardson
Why Women Don’t Report Sexual Assault
Dave Clennon
A Victory for Historical Accuracy and the Peace Movement: Not One Emmy for Ken Burns and “The Vietnam War”
W. T. Whitney
US Harasses Cuba Amid Mysterious Circumstances
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
Things That Make Sports Fans Uncomfortable
George Capaccio
Iran: “Snapping Back” Sanctions and the Threat of War
Kenneth Surin
Brexit is Coming, But Which Will It Be?
Louis Proyect
Moore’s “Fahrenheit 11/9”: Entertaining Film, Crappy Politics
Ramzy Baroud
Why Israel Demolishes: Khan Al-Ahmar as Representation of Greater Genocide
Ben Dangl
The Zapatistas’ Dignified Rage: Revolutionary Theories and Anticapitalist Dreams of Subcommandante Marcos
Ron Jacobs
Faith, Madness, or Death
Bill Glahn
Crime Comes Knocking
Terry Heaton
Pat Robertson’s Hurricane “Miracle”
Dave Lindorff
In Montgomery County PA, It’s Often a Jury of White People
Louis Yako
From Citizens to Customers: the Corporate Customer Service Culture in America 
William Boardman
The Shame of Dianne Feinstein, the Courage of Christine Blasey Ford 
Ernie Niemi
Logging and Climate Change: Oregon is Appalachia and Timber is Our Coal
Jessicah Pierre
Nike Says “Believe in Something,” But Can It Sacrifice Something, Too?
Paul Fitzgerald - Elizabeth Gould
Weaponized Dreams? The Curious Case of Robert Moss
Olivia Alperstein
An Environmental 9/11: the EPA’s Gutting of Methane Regulations
Ted Rall
Why Christine Ford vs. Brett Kavanaugh is a Train Wreck You Can’t Look Away From
Lauren Regan
The Day the Valves Turned: Defending the Pipeline Protesters
Ralph Nader
Questions, Questions Where are the Answers?
Binoy Kampmark
Deplatforming Germaine Greer
Raouf Halaby
It Should Not Be A He Said She Said Verdict
Robert Koehler
The Accusation That Wouldn’t Go Away
Jim Hightower
Amazon is Making Workers Tweet About How Great It is to Work There
Robby Sherwin
Rabbi, Rabbi, Where For Art Thou Rabbi?
Vern Loomis
Has Something Evil This Way Come?
Steve Baggarly
Disarm Trident Walk Ends in Georgia
Graham Peebles
Priorities of the Time: Peace
Michael Doliner
The Department of Demonization
David Yearsley
Bollocks to Brexit: the Plumber Sings
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail