Wednesday, June 20, 2007

While CNN is Mesmerized by a Missing Pregnant Woman, Real News Goes Uncovered

My agent has a hot prospect -- the number two station in Portland. The general manager says he wants to be every bit as good as the networks. Personally, I think he should aim higher.

- Aaron Altman (Albert Brooks) on his decision to leave his network reporting job in the 1987 film "Broadcast News," written by James L. Brooks

You can just feel the excitement over at CNN. I have visions of a modern day Paul Revere, likely an Ivy League graduate in business casual or a Joan Cusack go-getter from "Broadcast News," running through the halls in Atlanta screaming, "A pregnant blonde woman is missing! A pregnant blonde woman is missing!"

The disappearance and potential death of an innocent mother who is expecting another child is sad. I don't mean to in any way disparage the importance of the events to the woman's family. But the vast amount of hours CNN is devoting to this story is irresponsible.

While CNN has been distracted with the Texas floods and the missing woman in Ohio (stories that affect thousands of people), there are important national news stories going on that have managed to slip a bit under the radar, even though they affect the lives of millions. While my readership is slightly less than CNN's audience (or any other audience, for that matter), I figure the least I can do is shine a light on two of these stories.

Yesterday, a Yahoo!/AP article revealed that for President Bush to maintain his "surge" in Iraq through spring 2008, it will most likely be necessary to yet again extend the combat tours of soldiers. The fact that the administration would even consider such a move shows its complete lack of respect for the people who have chosen to serve in the armed forces. The military is calling it a "last resort," but the other options they floated, like using already overtaxed Reserve and National Guard units is equally unjust and odious. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) has proposed a bill restricting the length of troop deployments. It will be interesting to see how Republicans go on the record with a vote on the issue.

The strain on the forces demonstrates how out of control the war in Iraq has spiraled. On Sunday morning, I heard Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) on "This Week" with George Stephanopoulos explain why he believes the U.S. should remain in Iraq, essentially arguing that the U.S. has a vital interest in ensuring that Iraq does not devolve into civil war and genocide, allowing Islamists to take over, with a domino effect ensuing in the rest of the region. I found Graham to be more responsible and honest in his approach than the stream of misinformation and diversion that comes from the White House, but I also found his argument to be misguided.

First of all, it is a nearly 60-year-old thought process, and one that was used to support the wars in Korea and Vietnam. We were told that if Vietnam fell to the communists, it would start a chain of events leading to communism taking over in Asia. Well, the communists won in Vietnam, and the dire warnings of the Red Menace on the march turned out to be nothing more than Chicken Little predictions of doom.

More importantly, I challenge Graham's underlying assumption. Who is to say what will happen if we pull out of Iraq? The Republicans would have you believe genocide would be certain, but, as Bill Maher frequently says, these predictions are coming from the people that have gotten every single prediction wrong about Iraq so far. It's hard to believe them now.

Graham's argument also assumes that the goal (a free, democratic, peaceful, secular Iraq) is a possible outcome of America's military involvement. As I wrote in this space on June 13, Muslims are killing each other all over the Middle East, with pro-Syrians blowing up anti-Syrians in Lebanon, the government battling Islamists in Lebanon, the Turkish army trying to squash the Kurds, and Hamas destroying Fatah in Gaza (with footage of Hamas forces marching Fatah fighters in their underwear through the streets, and reports of summary executions of Fatah fighters by Hamas). It seems far-fetched that the United States, especially with its reputation spoiled in the wake of Abu Graib and Guantanamo Bay and its military fraying from being stretched beyond its abilities, is in any position to prevent the Shia-Sunni-Kurd battles in Iraq. Our mere presence in Iraq is one of the causes of unrest.

I am not arguing that there will not be a genocide in Iraq if the U.S. leaves. What I am saying is that it is not the foregone conclusion the administration and its supporters would have you believe. And, more importantly, are we supposed to send U.S. soldiers to their deaths indefinitely to keep the Shias and the Sunnis apart in Iraq? Nobody would support that. So, the assumption behind Graham's point is that if we stay there long enough, they will eventually kiss and make up. The arrogance of thought that the U.S. can effectuate this end to hostilities that is raging all over the Middle East is not only ridiculous, but, more importantly, it's dangerous and bad foreign policy.

Also flying under the radar thanks to CNN's obsession with pregnant women in peril is Bush's veto today of a bill to remove limits to federal funding of stem cell research. As I wrote here on June 7, Bush has repeatedly put his religious beliefs ahead of the good of the country and the will of the American people, who overwhelmingly support stem cell research. CNN is obsessed with the tragic flood in Texas that killed five people (according to a Yahoo!/AFP article) and the disappearance of one pregnant woman, but how many millions of people have had their lives and quality of lives put in danger because research into cures for their conditions will not be conducted at full potential solely because of the minority, religion-based views of the President? It seems clear to me which story is more important, but I guess vetoing a bill isn't as much of a viewer magnet as scary video of people being pulled from raging waters or still photos of an attractive pregnant woman.

The quote from Albert Brooks's character in "Broadcast News" that opened this article is 20 years old, but, sadly, it is even more applicable today. CNN should aim higher, because when they dish out non-news stories as if they are important, the truly important news events go by with virtually no coverage. As a result, the press's constitutional role of keeping watch on what the government does goes unfulfilled. If nothing else, CNN should worry that video of water is less interesting than footage of people being rescued. With so many Guard and Reserve units in Iraq, who will be around to save people the next time a town is flooded? What will CNN air then? Would they have to, gasp, cover the news? We know they don't want that to happen.