Afghan war: the cost of not knowing

First Michael Steele raised doubts whether the Afghan war is winnable. Now Senators Kerry and Lugar are expressing their own doubts. But still our news media are not providing enough in-depth coverage to foster an informed debate about war policy.

in Vietnam, American news media were slow to report on atrocities until the My Lai massacre. They were slow to report on the true strength of the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese armies until the Tet offensive.  Even then news media didn’t focus deeply enough on the possibility that our leaders had lied and our policy might fail until Walter Cronkite said so on CBS. Then the coverage became more realistic, it became clear to more of the American public that we weren’t winning the “hearts and minds” of the civilians, that “Vietnamization” wasn’t working, and the ground war began to end. (Nixon escalated the bombing but eventually that, too, failed).

The current war in Afghanistan, with its Vietnam-type focus on winning “hearts and minds,” has gone on longer than any other American war, and still the news media are providing little more than superficial coverage — some bang-bang here, a few interviews there, a map or two, a graphic showing the latest death tolls. That’s about it. They need to do much more to tell us in-depth and with historical context what is really happening, whether there’s any realistic chance of separating the Taliban fighters from the civilians, and whether even an American “victory” in Afghanistan would actually prevent future al-Qaida attacks on Americans.

As President Obama said in his commencement address in May here at the University of Michigan, before we can have a debate on any policy we need a reliable account of the facts, and that is the job of news media. His words are especially true in the case of war policy, because, as Senator Hiram Johnson is credited with saying in 1917, truth is the first casualty in wartime. Governments mislead the public. Journalists fear that being negative will make them look unpatriotic. But it’s in wartime that we need the truth the most. And in the case of Afghanistan, without the public having an understanding of the truth, this war and its terrible cost in lives could go on for a long time to come.

(Photo: WN Network)

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Filed under Afghanistan, news media, terrorism, war

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