Sunday, April 25, 2004

An increasing number of people are beginning to notice and more importantly talk about the amount and types of information we’re able to read, hear and see on TV concerning the conduct of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. In The Sunday Oregonian, Michael Arrieta-Walden, reminded readers that reporting was different during the Vietnam War.

“Reports on Iraqi civilians killed are even more difficult to obtain for readers. The U.S. government does not provide the numbers of Iraqi civilians killed.”

“That contrasts with how deaths were reported in the Vietnam War. Take this account from government officials, published in The Oregonian 35 years ago today: ‘The casualty totals last week were 216 Americans killed in action, 1,162 U.S. troops wounded, 329 government soldiers killed, 884 wounded, and 3,379 Viet Cong and North Vietnamese killed.’ ”

There are those who think that the U.S. failed to finish the war in Vietnam and that in large part the failure was caused by news reporting, especially TV. So the U.S. during the Persian Gulf War limited reporters to areas deemed safe. Then they were provided regular news briefings, which in turn were sent back to the United States. There was a lot of complaining about the Pentagon’s methods and restrictions and so during the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. government has embedded reporters with the troops and restricted where they could go and apparently what they could report on. For example, little or no information or summary statements have been reported on troops that are AWOL, injured, and killed as well as civilians in Afghanistan or Iraq.

Recently, a photograph was printed in The Seattle Times, showing flag-draped coffins on board an aircraft bound for the United States. The photographer lost her job. The American people apparently aren’t supposed to see the coffins en route or when they arrive in the United States. The impact of such photographs would clearly be great. When we can see the consequences of our actions so graphically portrayed we might very well alter how we feel about any war.

I agree with the headline on the Commentary section of The Sunday Oregonian which reminds us that, “Reporting Can’t become war casualty.”

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