Journalism by Body Count

I get a chance about 3-4 times a day to listen to a podcast for a major news service. Virtually the only thing I ever hear about what is going on in Iraq is a daily body count: how many people were injured, how many died, how many Americans have died since the invasion, etc. One of these days, I’m expecting to log onto CNN or MSNBC and see something that looks like a hit counter for a web site, which regularly updates to show the latest number of deaths. It could save reporters the trouble of actually writing a story, since it is virtually all that is reported.

Now, I don’t want to minimize the importance of the American public knowing that both Americans and Iraqis are losing their lives. Thats very important. But it seems to me that those deaths need to fit into some sort-of context in terms of what is (or isn’t) being accomplished. If the American public is going to hold an informed opinion about what is to be done in Iraq, a lot more needs to be said.

For example, I have no idea: (1) How widespread is the acceptance for the new government? (2) Is there a sense that the new government is legitimate? (3) Why is there still so much violence? (4) To what extent are American troops responsible for the violence? Is this a reaction to America? Or is it just a lot of age-old animosity that is coming out because we won’t crack down on misbehavior like a dictator would?

I consider myself to be relatively well informed, yet I don’t have much of a clue about any of this.

Here are my questions of the day:
a. Is the journalism-by-body-count approach being employed simply because it is the best way to bring down Bush’s approval numbers? (I think a persuasive argument can be made for this)
b. Is it just journalistic laziness?
c. Is the problem that our collective attention span is so short that the ONLY thing that can be reported with any sense of coherence is a body count?

I’m growing cynical. I’m convinced that neither the government nor the media are communicating the full story. In other words, we are forced to choose between either (a) the overly optimistic Republican party line OR (b) the overly simplified body count that is being reported by the media. Neither of those views reveal the difficult complexities of the situation.

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