Archive for March 5th, 2005

The news and more

March 5, 2005

I must offer a cop-out preface. I’d never read a blog before I contributed to this one, and since I’m the last unique writer of the week I can see my thoughts aren’t as linear, nor or is my writing as crisp as my fellow contributors. But having said this I invite you read further. I’ll start with a question …What’s going on!?!?In the past week the Pope narrowly averted a life-threatening episode. President Bush spoke about social security reform, Syria, Iran and the Boston Red Sox. Baseball players reported to work for the Spring talking more about “the clear and the cream” than their sport.. Michael Jackson went to court. Kobe Bryant settled to stay out of court and on the court is losing more than ever. Martha Stewart walked away from prison. And forget E.F. Hutton, people are listening to Alan Greenspan.

But who really has time to catch every story that comes across the wire?

With the hectic pace of your life, it’s a fair assumption you haven’t spent hours considering the world’s 24-hour news cycle. But remember when the news came on at six and 10? Now CNN, MSNBC, FOX and almost a million websites like yahoo and google can give you the latest world news around the clock with in hours. And why is it a random event can create such a bowel wave of news sometimes lasting months at a time? Do these names ring a bell?

“Baby Jessica”
Lyle and Erik Menendez
Rodney King
Joey Buttafuoco
Timothy McVeigh
Scott O’Grady
Elian Gonzalez
Gary Condit
Scott Peterson

Somewhere along the line, I developed a fascination with this phenomenon often called “news” or the nature of news. Where does it come from? Why does it exist? Do my friends care? WHY SHOULD I CARE!?!?

There has been much discussion about journalism’s effect on politics. (For your sake and mine, I will not intrude on our political expert’s turf) But the 2001 book Bias by Bernard Goldberg and the 2004 documentary Outfoxed make the case that often news is a myopic view of reality.

Research has been produced in volumes relating to the nature of news. Why were you bombarded with every juicy detail of stories like the O.J. trial, Jean Benet Ramsey or the Branch Davidians? The ability of a story to resonate relates to its immediacy, proximity to you, the news recipient, or the prominence of the story-makers. The story will linger the more it contains conflict, emotion, oddity, sex and suspense. And the bottom line is —- you guessed it– making a buck. And the suits at the top of the “news” food chain make them aplenty.

However that is all I plan to say about this academic realm of journalism.

I’ve been placed in a unique position to gain what I hope you’ll find to be a rare perspective on some international news items. But first it is important to know how and why the gears of news turn.

I’m not here to give you more news. I’m here to offer a personal take on items you might see from your selected news provider.

I doubt you could overlook it even if you wanted to. News flows out of Iraq from international news agencies by the Gigabyte. I would imagine most everyone has mentioned it from Capital Hill to the water cooler down the hall. The big headlines this week?

“U.S. Troop Deaths In Iraq Rise To 1,500” – New York Times, 3 Mar
“Trauma Of Iraq War Haunting Thousands Returning Home” – USA Today, 28 Feb
“Blast Kills 122 At Iraqi Clinic In Attack On Security Recruits” – New York Times 1 Mar

If you want it, the barrage of information is there. But do you feel like you really know? Or do you still wonder what it is really like there now? Prior to my current government-paid vacation, I never really broke from my self-absorbed focus long enough to consider it. The whole situation is so politicized, as well it should be. For isn’t war really an extension of politics? Yet, its impossible to become desensitized to the statistics and stories. One thousand, five hundred young Americans lost their lives. Do you know any of them. Would your perspective change if you did?

It really wasn’t until I witnessed the high-stakes state of affairs in this fledgling country that I really put myself in the shoes of those American soldiers, sailors, Airmen and marines on the ground. They are working daily to grind out a future for a group of people, most of whom they will never meet. They know the risks, and dollars to donuts every one them thinks the same thing. “I’m just doing my job.”

Why should I care? Why should you care? Well, the people I’ve met and the stories I’ve heard are the embodiment of discovering the world through people.
The story came across the news wire … “Humvee Tragedy Forges Brotherhood Of Soldiers” – Washington Post, 22 Feb ( I missed it, of course. It sounded like all the other stories I hadn’t read.

Then a friend, someone I consider a very close friend, related his personal perspective on this Humvee accident. My friend is a chaplain currently serving at Balad Air Base, Iraq, about 70 kilometers north of Baghdad. He was there among the medics as they treated the hypothermic. He assisted those understandably shaken by the loss of a friend. And the degrees of separation between me and the realities of war were reduced to one.

Now if you were to choose the toughest place in the world to perform the duties of a chaplain, how does a field hospital in the middle of a country currently waging a war that some researchers claim has taken more than 10,000 lives.

This Chaplain sees the stories with out the filter. He sees the medical pros pounding on the chests of the young Americans and Iraqis; some of which turn in to names posted in newspapers or soon to be shown on a memorial in Washington D.C. But there is no detachment for him. He asks, “is it too much for me to relay these things I see to you?”

Why don’t I let you decide … He writes:

“Earlier this afternoon I held the hand and prayed over a soldier while he died. Just a few minutes ago I did the same for another soldier. Two others are also deceased, but they never came to the hospital. Anyway, as we were waiting for the inevitable with the nursing crews, I was impressed with how careful they were to treat the patients with such dignity. They gave each soldier more medication to make him comfortable. They wiped off their faces, covered them so they would not get cold and just did everything for them as if they were going to live. One statement I heard from both crews is “no one should have to die alone.” I stayed both times, not so much because there was anything I could do, but so that these two soldiers did not have to die alone.” I may be crazy, but after I read these words, I kept thinking about journalism. Not Tom Brokaw or Ted Turner, but perspective. I thought about the perspective I’d crafted towards all that’s going on in Iraq and how I really had no idea what it’s like there. I had allowed myself to become so desensitized to the reality in which these brave men and women live and work.

Are these circumstances too real? Perhaps. But here’s my final thought. The circumstances of those Americans waking up in Iraq are not too much or too depressing for me to hear. I’m not sure if from these things I should be sheltered. I agree the details are not for public consumption. I believe these people, these Iraqis and the fighters from the coalition nations, are carrying a heavy responsibility because the weak like me are unable. Most of us aren’t capable of making the sacrifices and heeding the call, but somebody must. And so often we never hear or think about these people who are “just doing the job.”
I can’t get the details of each loss from a news story. Nor is possible to capture the result, but without these details I never would have know how thankful I should be towards those who come home.