The Key Statistic

Got this note in my inbox from the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA):

This week marks the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, but you might not have seen much about it on TV recently. Just 3% of the news in February was dedicated to the war and fewer than one in three Americans know how many American troops have died in Iraq. Believe it or not, a study just released by the Pew Research Center shows that press coverage of the war is at the lowest point since the war began.

Please take a minute now to sign an open letter to the media and demand that major networks increase their coverage of the Iraq war.

The economy and the presidential campaigns are both important stories, but news of the ongoing wars shouldn’t fall by the wayside. The media must demonstrate that they can walk and chew gum at the same time. Over 80% of Americans are aware that Oprah Winfrey endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president, while just 28% know how many troops have died in Iraq- even though we are rapidly approaching 4,000 casualties.

Emphasis in the original.

A quick look at the open letter to the media that they’ve written reveals this:

Dear ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, Fox News and CNN,

In February, your network devoted an average of 3% of the coverage to the war in Iraq. Because of that appallingly low number, fewer people than ever before know how many American soldiers have died in Iraq, while a majority of the publics knows Oprah Winfrey endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president.

It’s clear from this that the message is “the media needs to show more stories about Iraq so that folks will know how many troops have died.”

Now, you all will know that I agree there should be more coverage of Iraq. But my position is more along the lines of “the media need to show more stories about Iraq so that folks will know what’s going on over there.”

Note the difference between the reason I want more media coverage and the reason that the IAVA wants more media coverage: I want people to know what’s going on, they want people to know how many troops have died.

I’ll agree that casualty numbers are very important, but there’s a lot more to the story than how many troops have been killed. Narrowing the focus to casualties frames the debate in an unfair and unmeaningful way. It uses casualties as the yardstick by which the campaign is measured. Which is exactly what critics want.

If it was only the IAVA, it would be one thing. But even the Pew report they mention that I linked to last week is written from a standpoint of “awareness is down because fewer people know how many troops have died.

UPDATE: Then there’s this sort of thing: On the Fifth Anniversary of the Iraq War, It’s Mourning in America:

Such is the state of our long national slouch into anesthetic delusion that the fifth anniversary of a war in Iraq that is nearing 4,000 American dead is buried on America’s popular browser due to the “pressing” story on the more tender sensibilities of an “American Idol” judge.

It’s supposed to be the smart political thing to say that the surge is working, but only if you are the kind that thinks everything is hunky dory between the Israelis and Palestinians. The surge is nothing more than a political/police action/bribery of faction leaders Band-Aid to lower the death count until the Bush Administration ends and a new president has to deal with the disaster.