Monday, January 30, 2006

On casualties

Okay, so a big story on the major networks lately has been the roadside bomb in Iraq that injured ABC anchor Bob Woodruff and cameraman Doug Vogt. As of last notice, both are in serious but stable condition, and they may be able to return to the US for treatment as soon as tomorrow.

What happened was horrible. The journalists and support staff reporting from Iraq do so at great personal risk, and lives have been lost. David Bloom, a close friend of Woodruff's, died in April of 2003 of a pulmonary embolism, and kidnapped freelancer Jill Carroll remains unaccounted for in Iraq. Woodruff and Vogt both have wives and children, making the incident even more tragic. There's a whole lot of praying going on, and I encourage all of you praying types to be a part of it.

There's also a whole lot of reporting going on. Progress reports are given on all of the major networks. The Today Show ran a segment on reporters putting themselves in harm's way to get the news out, and Woodruff's wife has been interviewed. But while it's the job of the news media to report the news, and while this is certainly a significant story, and while I feel like a horrible person for thinking it when these men's families are going through so much, precisely how significant is it?

I'm going to say something that will come across as harsh, and then I'm going to qualify it: People die in Iraq all the time. Troops with families, people with spouses and children, drivers and translators, get killed by snipers and roadside bombs and suicide bombers. They all, as Woodruff and Vogt do, recognize that their job in Iraq is inherently dangerous.

I'm not saying that these incidents are so common that this one shouldn't be a big deal. On the contrary - I think they should all be a big deal. The media are criticized when they run names and pictures of troops lost in Iraq, critics saying that they're undermining the war effort and damaging morale by publicizing our losses. I disagree completely. I think that the price of our freedom and comfort at home is looking into the eyes of every man or woman who has given his or her life for us, to give up the comforting illusion of this massive blob of abstract protectiveness and recognize each individual who has made that sacrifice.

So when I say that Woodruff's and Vogt's injuries are no more newsworthy than any other casualty in Iraq, I also say they they're no less. I understand that right now, journalists are dealing with serious injuries to two of their own, and that this incident is probably the center of their personal worlds. The question of news judgment comes when they make them the center of our world. I will pray for Bob Woodruff and Doug Vogt, and for their families, and for the Iraqi soldier, yet unnamed, who was injured alongside them. But I'll also be praying for all of the troops whose profiles weren't public enough to make it onto the news when they were injured or killed.

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