Editorial: CBS covers its war coverage too much

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 1, 2006

When a journalist covers the war and is killed, it is a story &045; but only to a degree. Does it seem perhaps CBS News is going overboard in reporting about its reporters who were killed or injured covering the war in Iraq?

We think so.

There are more important stories to be told by the national news agencies than reporters being killed or injured. There are civilians being killed and injured in Iraq. There are Iraqi soldiers and police being killed and injured in Iraq. And, lest we forget, there are U.S. soldiers being killed in Iraq or coming home injured for life.

Television in its normal form is a &8220;vast wasteland.&8221; Just watch &8220;Punk’d&8221; on MTV for five minutes. Or how about the extended coverage of Katie Couric leaving &8220;Today.&8221; Or reporters interviewing reporters on CNN and Fox News.

However, there are a few quality aspects of the medium, and that tends to happen when TV networks broadcast live &045; sports events, on-air interviews and news coverage of disasters and wars. Taped coverage of those are compelling, too. Television was a powerful medium on Sept. 11, 2001, and footage from that day remains powerful.

Television is not living up to its abilities in the Iraq War.

During Vietnam, the TV networks used the medium to show the American public the war. It was remarkable to see footage in our living rooms. People didn’t necessarily want to see the footage, but CBS and the networks knew Americans should see the footage. It was their tax dollars at work, their countrymen killing, their sons dying, their leaders acting and sometimes their leaders failing to act. It was controversial, but the networks stood their ground. History now looks fondly on how the TV media covered Vietnam.

Today, coverage seems condensed and canned into three minutes, and footage snaps from one image to another. Here’s a helicopter shooting a rooftop, here’s smoke in the distance rising above a city skyline, here’s a spokesman, here’s a general talking, here’s a baby crying, here’s a smiling soldier, here’s a pretty sunset. It seems there are fewer times when the TV news tells the tales of the personal experiences participants in the war go through. There are no caskets. It’s spoon-fed. They are content to leave those tales to the print media, such as Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, Virginian-Pilot and other large-budget newspapers. It seems there are fewer times when the camera is fixed on a streetscape, providing steady footage of a war scene. Punches are pulled. Coverage is fickle.

It leaves us with this clear conclusion: The only reason CBS News has dedicated so much airtime to covering its reporters is because they were its reporters. CBS seems to be exploiting the incident for ratings, to show Americans it is in Iraq, rather than actually providing news in Iraq.

Yes, reporters dying is a story. No, not to the extent CBS tells it.