Talk Talk Talk Talk Talk Myself to Death: Has the War in Iraq Received a Summer Replacement?

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Has the War in Iraq Received a Summer Replacement?

Back in the days of the TV variety show, the networks would schedule summer replacement series instead of reruns of the variety shows themselves. Glen Campbell's TV show started as a summer replacement for the Smothers Brothers, and believe it or not, one year The Jackie Gleason Show's summer replacement show was The Prisoner! It feels like that's what's been happening in the Middle East lately. The fighting on and across the Israeli-Lebanese border is currently the big story, but it seems to me that there's still a war on somewhere else, isn't there? It seems that way to Frank Rich, too. In today's New York Times, he investigates "The Peculiar Disappearance of the War in Iraq":

CNN will surely remind us today that it is Day 19 of the Israel-Hezbollah war — now branded as Crisis in the Middle East — but you won't catch anyone saying it's Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks' evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. On Thursday, Brian Williams of NBC read aloud a "shame on you" e-mail complaint from the parents of two military sons anguished that his broadcast had so little news about the war.

This is happening even as the casualties in Iraq, averaging more than 100 a day, easily surpass those in Israel and Lebanon combined. When Nouri al-Maliki, the latest Iraqi prime minister, visited Washington last week to address Congress, he too got short TV shrift — a mere five sentences about the speech on ABC's "World News." The networks know a rerun when they see it. Only 22 months earlier, one of Mr. Maliki's short-lived predecessors, Ayad Allawi, had come to town during the 2004 campaign to give a similarly empty Congressional address laced with White House-scripted talking points about the war's progress. Propaganda stunts, unlike "Law & Order" episodes, don't hold up on a second viewing.

The steady falloff in Iraq coverage isn't happenstance. It's a barometer of the scope of the tragedy. For reporters, the already apocalyptic security situation in Baghdad keeps getting worse, simply making the war more difficult to cover than ever. The audience has its own phobia: Iraq is a bummer. "It is depressing to pay attention to this war on terror," said Fox News's Bill O'Reilly on July 18. "I mean, it's summertime." Americans don't like to lose, whatever the season. They know defeat when they see it, no matter how many new plans for victory are trotted out to obscure that reality.

Rich goes on to metaphorically link the American public's lack of interest with the war's lack of coherence. We've been given several reasons for being there, none of which holds up to much examination. The violence gets worse, the civil war grows more ferocious, so denial seems more and more the only strategy worth pursuing. The Prez has already said that he's not planning to withdraw before he leaves office, so it's not really news that he's got no obvious strategy or particular outcome in mind. If he can't even maintain the interest in the details of the war, why should anyone expect the rest of us too? If it weren't for the massive loss of life and limb that's doing nothing but grow and grow, ignoring the whole thing might almost seem like a reasonable response. I'm sure the Iraq War will be back in the fall with the rest of the new TV season. (Read the full Frank Rich column this week at Wealthy Frenchman).


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