How Journalists Can Support Our Veterans
Josh Stearns recently published an excellent piece for MediaShift that catalogues some of the impressive nonprofit journalism being done around the country in support of veterans and their families. You can—and should—support these projects by going to www.newsmatch.org and donating to any number of the organizations involved in those efforts.
Those projects are unequivocally valuable acts of journalism, and nothing can take away from what they provide to veterans and their families. But there’s another aspect of the discussion regarding veterans’ issues that is often conspicuously absent from the conversation.
I’m talking, of course, about the wars themselves—the source of virtually every struggle and challenge veterans often face upon returning home.
We are currently occupying two countries, conducting drone strikes in at least seven countries, and running special operations in several more. The authorization for these ongoing combat operations has been consistently renewed without major opposition, and the expansive military campaigns themselves are allowed to continue with no end in sight. They don’t even think they need permission anymore.
War, especially the kind of endless wars we are engaged in today, is, of course, the primary cause and continuing source of the majority of issues veterans face back home and overseas. Yet, the concept of a forever war is increasingly normalized or treated as an almost unremarkable fact of life in mainstream journalism and public discourse.
In covering war and its participants, we pay so much attention and dedicate so much of our reporting resources to addressing the symptoms of war, while often refusing to even acknowledge the rampant militarism and hawkish foreign policy decisions that serve as the genesis of those same symptoms.
This is not to say that these resources and efforts are inherently wasted or superfluous. These issues are real, and they deserve our continued attention. Nor is it to suggest that war itself is not covered at all or not covered critically enough in some circles. Examples of excellent, hard-hitting, and critical journalism abound.
But we must acknowledge that merely treating the symptoms of war is only half the battle and, as in medicine, doing so only serves to mask or temporarily alleviate the suffering that ultimately stems from the underlying malady.
It’s somewhat of an easy target, but let’s start with the big one: the Iraq War.
Even as I write this, I can feel the eyes starting to roll and the heads starting to shake: Well, of course, the Iraq War was a farce. Everyone knows that. Plus, that was more than a decade ago. Can’t you find a more recent example to make your point? It’s 2017, for God’s sake.
The problem is, everyone doesn’t know that. And while it’s true that the invasion of Iraq happened more than a decade ago—our veterans are still there, more than 14 years later, killing and dying for a cause that was borne out of deception and falsehoods.
The list of journalistic misdeeds coming out of The New York Times alone during lead-up to the Iraq War should be enough to make your stomach turn, but The Washington Post, USA Today, Reuters and others have plenty to answer for as well, both before and after the invasion. Hell, MSNBC even went as far as to fire Phil Donahue for his critical approach to the U.S. war narrative. They replaced him with a two-hour segment called “Countdown: Iraq” with Lester Holt.
In the years following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the lies that were used by the Bush Administration as justification for the war were laid bare. Major media outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post have even since apologized (kinda) for their misleading coverage and lack of skepticism regarding the invasion.
Good. We should all admit, Yes, journalism got it wrong on Iraq. We fell for the lie.
But that’s only part of the problem. It wasn’t just blatantly false statements and intelligence manipulation that duped the public into supporting the invasion of a country that didn’t attack us, occupying that country, overthrowing its leader, and ultimately causing the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis—not to mention thousands of U.S. service members.
It was also the choice of overwhelmingly pro-war sources and the uncritical willingness of our major media institutions to support the use of military force that helped sell the invasion to the American viewing public.
A 2003 analysis by the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting found that 297 of the 393 guests interviewed on major news networks during a two-week period before the invasion of Iraq were either current or retired government officials (both U.S. and otherwise). In fact, just two percent were anti-war or opposed to the invasion.
The same thing happened in 2008, and again September 2014 when President Obama was considering a plan to attack ISIS fighters in Syria. As revealed in a 2014 study by FAIR, the debate about Syria focused on how—not whether—to launch another military offensive against another country that didn’t attack us.
This quote from the 2014 study certainly calls into question any assertion that the journalism industry learned anything from its mistakes:
In total, 205 sources appeared on the programs discussing military options in Syria and Iraq. Just six of these, or 3 percent, voiced opposition to US military intervention, while 125 (61 percent) spoke in favor of US war.
Then, earlier this year, we saw more of the same. Remember this?
Forget the fact that those 59 cruise missiles cost at least $1 million each to replace, and that firing them at an empty Syrian Air Force base (not to mention warning the Syrian government of the impending attack) achieved virtually nothing when it comes to U.S. foreign policy objectives in the region. Forget the fact that each missile we fire is another $1 million down the drain that could have been spent on caring for actual veterans.
You don’t even have to acknowledge that CNN’s coverage of the gas attacks in Syria is believed to have quite literally contributed to Trump’s decision to fire the missiles in the first place.
Even if you disregard all of that, what should be eminently clear at this point is this: Failing to fight back against the nearly constant march to war will not only make it harder for journalists to serve veterans and their families. It will also guarantee that those veterans—and the generations of veterans that follow—will continue to suffer.
So if you really want to support veterans, here’s what you should do: First, click here and donate to one or more of these awesome projects.
Then, the next time someone starts talking about how we need to bomb or invade something in an interview on television, in an article in the New York Times—or in some shitty Facebook meme, for that matter—don’t fall for it.
Joe Amditis is the associate director of the Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University.