by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
March 27, 2008
IN IRAQ, THE BUTCHER'S BILL KEEPS GROWING
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Last week marked the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
This week saw the U.S. death toll in Iraq pass 4,000.
And aside from a brief spasm of anniversary stories over the past two weeks, public awareness of the war and its cost has been reflected by the news media's lack of interest in covering the war.
The Pew Research Center on People and the Press recently released a report that demonstrates how the declining amount of news coverage of Iraq has affected American's perception of the war.
The Pew researchers started with a simple question: how many Americans in uniform have died in Iraq. Last August, 54 percent of those surveyed gave the correct answer -- about 3,500. When the asked the question three weeks ago, only 28 percent knew the right answer - nearly 4,000.
That correlates to the lack of press attention to the war. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war dropped from an average of 15 percent of the news hole in July 2007 to just 3 percent in February.
When something is in the news all the time, people pay attention to it. When it is not, attention wanders elsewhere. Pew's News Index Survey found that Iraq was the most closely followed news story in all but five weeks of the six months of 2007. It's been less dominant since then. Only once since July 2007 has Iraq been ranked as the public's top weekly story.
But for more than 4,000 other American families who have had to go through pain and loss of a loved one's dead and for the more than 30,000 other families who have had a loved one badly injured, the war is front and center in their minds. Add to this group the tens of thousands more who are returning from Iraq unable to emotionally deal with the things they've done and seen. They are all part of a whole new generation of Americans touched by this war.
The grief of families whose sons and daughters didn't come home. The pain of families who are dealing with sons and daughters who have returned physically or psychologically damaged. The ripple effect on the hundreds of thousands of friends, relatives, and co-workers of those deployed to Iraq.
All this is apparently not the stuff of front page stories.
But even though it is not in the papers or on the television, people seem to know. A recent USA Today/Gallup Poll asked what course would be better for the United States in Iraq. Thirty-five percent said keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until things get better. Sixty percent said set a timetable for removing troops and stick to it no matter what happens.
We know how the Bush Administration feels about that. When ABC's Martha Raddatz asked Vice President Cheney last week about the Iraq war and the fact that "two-thirds of Americans say it's not worth fighting, and they're looking at the value gain versus the cost in American lives, certainly, and Iraqi lives," Cheney's response was one word.
"So, you don't care what the American people think?" asked Raddatz.
"No, I think you cannot be blown off course by the fluctuations in the public opinion polls," said Cheney.
In other words, the growing opposition to the U.S. occupation in Iraq is a mere "fluctuation" in public opinion. And, it doesn't matter anyway, because Cheney doesn't care what you -- or any other American who doesn't share his views on Iraq -- thinks.
President Bush feels likewise about Iraq. "The world is better, and the United States of America is safer," he told an audience at the Pentagon last week in a speech marking the fifth anniversary of the U.S. invasion.
The grim arithmetic of this war -- 4,000 dead U.S. soldiers and anywhere from 40,000 to 1 million Iraqi civilians killed over the past five years -- doesn't seem to matter to the Bush or Cheney crowd. The nearly $600 billion, and counting, it has cost to doesn't matter to them. The exposure of nearly every rationale for going to war as a lie doesn't bother them.
The world is not better. The United States is not safer. And a war that didn't need to happen grinds on into its sixth year.
AR Correspondent Randolph T. Holhut has been a journalist in New England for more than 25 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at email@example.com.