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News coverage desensitizes citizens to war

March 25, 2003

Staff editorial

Friday afternoon as millions of Americans tuned into TV expecting to watch soap operas, afternoon newscasts or the 2003 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the United States began bombing Baghdad, and without notice people were viewing Operation Iraqi Freedom from the comfort of their living rooms and offices.

While the major 24-hour cable news networks had been carrying continuous coverage of events in Iraq, the three major U.S. networks all interrupted regularly scheduled programming to bring live war coverage to Americans. CBS eventually resumed broadcasting the NCAA tournament, but both ABC and NBC kept covering the war well into primetime hours.

This sort of around-the-clock war coverage is not necessary for Americans to grasp the magnitude of the war with Iraq. Yes, the images of bombs falling on Baghdad are compelling, but the manner in which the images are portrayed creates scenes more similar to an action movie than to actual combat. No human angle is presented -- no Iraqi citizens taking shelter to avoid being hit by falling debris and no soldiers or leaders on either side organizing the war effort. The war is being shown as a clean, hands-off affair.

War is not the spectator sport that live news coverage from Iraq is making it out to be. If the constant exposure to images from Iraq continues, Americans run the risk of becoming desensitized to the true nature of war, the majority of which never can be shown on network or cable television newscasts.

Live shots of bombs and missiles striking targets in a burning city may give the appearance that the United States is winning the war, but an even harsher reality lies beneath the smoke and flames that in many minds signify victory or at least progress. People are dying, and Americans are tuning in to watch during their lunch breaks.