Beginning in 2003, coverage of the war in Iraq dominated the news media. One could not open up a newspaper or watch the nightly news without being updated on developments concerning Iraq.
- Leading up to the war, we were informed of the government’s concerns over possible weapons of mass destruction and terrorist connections in Iraq.
- In March 2003, we witnessed the “shock and awe” bombing campaign.
- In April 2003, we watched video of a statue of Saddam Hussein being toppled.
- In December 2003, we learned of Saddam Hussein’s capture.
- In 2004, the media reported on the failure to find weapons in Iraq, suicide bombings, torture at Abu Ghraib prison and more.
For years onward, the American public ate up coverage on Iraq, hungry for the latest in the “War on Terrorism”.
But then, beginning in 2008, coverage began to decline. And in 2011, coverage of the Iraq War reached its lowest point, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. In April 2011, only 0.1 percent of news media coverage had to do with the Iraq War.
While I am not keen on the media shoving Iraq coverage down our throats, I do think that developments in the war during the past year should have gotten more attention. The public, as a whole, has a short-term memory when it comes to major world events. When an event breaks, it’s all we digest. For example, if a devastating natural disaster occurs, such as Hurricane Katrina or the earthquake in Haiti, we dedicate our time and money to aiding the victims. But after some time passes (maybe a few months or a year), we forget about it. We stop talking about it. We stop donating money. Thoughts about the victims are increasingly replaced with thoughts about what to make for dinner, when we will have time to go grocery shopping, whether to buy those new shoes we’ve been wanting, etc. But just because the disaster is no longer at the forefront of our minds doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily over.
The way that the media reports on natural disasters and other major world events contributes to our tendency to forget as time goes on. The media reports heavily on breaking news, but then drops the ball when it comes to covering the long-term effects of a particular event. However, this should not be happening with the Iraq War. It is important for the American public to be aware of what is continuing to go on in Iraq. For example:
- In June 2011, there were 15 American fatalities, which is the most in a month since June 2009.
- In August, a series of attacks in Iraq killed 90 Iraqis and injured 315. It was the deadliest day of 2011 for the Iraqi people.
But for one reason or another, these facts barely made it into the news, and certainly not the mainstream news. That is not okay. We need to know that just because the war was “officially” declared over and the government is pulling troops out of Iraq, it does not mean that violence and destruction in the country have ceased. We also need to know that once that last troop exits Iraq, it does not mean that “success” has been reached and activities in Iraq are no longer of U.S. concern. The public needs to be aware of the aftermath of a war, and it is the news media’s responsibility to inform the public of that.
Ramzy Baroud wrote in an editorial published in Al-Ahram Weekly Online:
“It might take us years to truly understand the magnitude of what has since transpired in Iraq. Death and destruction have hovered over the country, killing and wounding hundreds of thousands, sending millions into exile and millions more have been classified by UN agencies as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). It was a horror show that cannot be captured with the language of reason, but every moment of it was experienced by millions of ordinary people, punished severely for a crime they never committed.”
This type of suffering will continue to devastate the Iraqi people, even after our troops are long gone. The media cannot let the American public forget that.