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Frank Rich: Why the television networks 'canceled' the war in Iraq

Published: Saturday July 29, 2006

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Referring to a report that Iraq coverage on the three major network evening newscasts dropped 60 percent since 2003, New York Times columnist Frank Rich argues that the war has been "canceled" partly because the American viewing audience may not have the "stomach to watch" such a "big, nightmarish story" that has garnered the "specter of defeat," and which "lacks the thread of a coherent plot," RAW STORY has found.

Excerpts from Rich's Sunday column in the Times:


As America fell into the quagmire of Vietnam, the comedian Milton Berle joked that the fastest way to end the war would be to put it on the last-place network, ABC, where it was certain to be canceled. Berle's gallows humor lives on in the quagmire in Iraq. Americans want this war canceled too, and first- and last-place networks alike are more than happy to oblige.

CNN will surely remind us on Sunday that it is Day 19 of the Israel-Hezbollah war -- now branded as Crisis in the Middle East -- but you won't catch anyone saying it's Day 1,229 of the war in Iraq. On the Big Three networks' evening newscasts, the time devoted to Iraq has fallen 60 percent between 2003 and this spring, as clocked by the television monitor, the Tyndall Report. On Thursday, Brian Williams of NBC read aloud a "shame on you" e-mail complaint from the parents of two military sons anguished that his broadcast had so little news about the war.


The specter of defeat is not the only reason Americans have switched off Iraq. The larger issue is that we don't know what we -- or, more specifically, 135,000 brave and vulnerable American troops -- are fighting for. In contrast to the Israel-Hezbollah war, where the stakes for the combatants and American interests are clear, the war in Iraq has no rationale to keep it afloat on television or anywhere else. It's a big, nightmarish story, all right, but one that lacks the thread of a coherent plot.


That the latest American plan for victory is to reposition our forces by putting more of them in the crossfire of Baghdad's civil war is tantamount to treating our troops as if they were deck chairs on the Titanic. Even if the networks led with the story every night, what Americans would have the stomach to watch?