The Cost Of (Covering) The War

The war in Iraq has been disastrously expensive on so many levels. It distracted the nation, and the world, from the real terrorist threats still operating in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere. It demolished the international sympathy, unity, and goodwill that existed post 9/11. It prompted a legislative assault on cherished civil liberties and domestic and international law. It’s made our allies weaker and our enemies stronger, even as we become more reliant on regimes that do not have our interests at heart. And, of course, the irredeemable cost of 3,700 American troops and tens (hundreds?) of thousands of innocent Iraqis.

Now the cost of war is intruding on the cost of covering the war:

After more than four years into the war in Iraq, television news organizations have awakened to their own grim reality: They’re spending millions of dollars a year to operate in a country where security costs them thousands of dollars a day. Even with extreme security measures, photographers and correspondents are in constant danger of getting maimed and killed-even in their own bureaus.

So far the war in Iraq has claimed the lives of 112 journalists, with many more wounded and maimed. For some perspective, there were 66 journalists killed in Vietnam; 68 in World War II.

Many stateside war advocates regurgitate the Bush administration’s complaints that the media focuses too much on “trivialities” like car bombings and mass executions, while neglecting the “uplifting” tales of newly painted schoolhouses. The sad truth is that the opposite is more reflective of reality. Because of the ever-present risk, reporters are often unable to venture out of the heavily fortified safe areas where they might witness even more of the atrocities that the homefront punditry accuse them of exaggerating. But the cocktail circuit columnists are hardly knowledgeable sources when it comes to war correspondence. Can you imagine Bob Novak or Bill O’Reilly or Laura Ingraham having to articulate this workplace lament:

Lara Logan, CBS News: “When your office gets blown up it’s a reminder that you’re not immune.”

Yet, in the face of that courage, international news bureaus are having an increasingly difficult time justifying the expense of maintaining a credible presence in Iraq. It isn’t because Iraq is not regarded as the top story in the world, but because so much of the budget is earmarked for security instead of reporters, photographers, and other press support staff. Additionally, Iraq, with its special financial burdens, is depleting funds and coverage from other foreign bureaus and news events.

Despite these financial pressures, there are reporters for whom the story is paramount. They continue to fight for the resources and editorial support to produce the sort of thorough and accurate reports that our citizens, our troops, and the long-suffering people of Iraq depend upon and deserve. It’s often an uphill battle when the competition amongst the news networks is increasing while viewership and ratings are declining. But the fight must be waged and Lara Logan explains simply and eloquently why it’s still important:

“You don’t abandon the American soldiers who are on the streets of this country because people are tired of hearing about it. You don’t abandon the Iraqi people. […] Our job is to find a way through that.”

This is the kind of commitment that ought to be respected and rewarded. It does not come easily for journalists in a war zone whose lives are perpetually in danger. It makes you wonder how being dismissive of the press corps at war in Baghdad comes so easily for their colleagues at happy-hour in DC.