As Iraq-war-fatigue infects our Wolfs and Katies and Brians and Tims and Times and Newsweeks and all our daily papers, too -- with the percentage of news-time devoted to the war now shaved to a pitiful 3% -- the same flu-like torpor is filtering down to viewers and readers: when U.S. deaths passed 4,000 last month, only one in four Americans knew about -- much less mourned -- that hideous landmark. Three quarters of us, when asked to guess the carnage, were at least a thousand corpses off.
And if it seems to you like war coverage is way, way down, you're right: just as recently as last July, coverage of the war -- distorted as it may have been by the work of lazy, corrupt, or too-cozily embedded "reporters" -- was five times greater than now, according to The Project for Excellence in Journalism. And it's surely no coincidence that back then, twice as many Americans were able to answer that same ghoulish poll-question -- how many American soldiers have died in Iraq? -- within a thousand, give or take a couple of dead bodies.
In other words, we're becoming stupider and stupider about the war in direct proportion to the programming we receive from the mainstream media.
The dead are receding into a haze of doubletalk, false-talk, or no talk at all. This kind of ignorance -- which is not even bliss -- dishonors those we claim to revere most. But we all have a vague sense of why we're losing track of the story; nowadays it's presented to us as way too complex -- Shia-on-Shia, Sadr City, Basra, Maliki -- it's all come to seem like some ancient, esoteric sport played in dismal foreign stadiums, by weird-looking strangers, according to byzantine yet uninteresting rules.
And, of course, thanks to the Bush-Cheney Doctrine, we see no flag-draped coffins. Not one, much less four thousand. No buglers playing Taps to refresh our memories. We see not one split-open gut, much less tens of thousands. No, unlike the war-deaths of the quaint and bygone twentieth century, all these deaths take place off-stage. And, to its eternal discredit, the American media -- not wanting to risk losing those precious "embeds" -- surely the most nauseatingly coy term in the history of reporting -- plays along with this clever piece of Pentagon stagecraft.
If we did see war photos -- if we did see the coffins -- more of us would know, maybe even down to the very last dead soldier, the latest casualty figures.
But, of course, the question that the Pew Research Center did not even bother to ask the American public is: how many Iraqis have we killed, as of today?
Ever since the Pentagon public-relations people smartened up, post-Viet Nam, and stopped estimating "enemy" dead -- i.e. non-Caucasian corpses -- and ever since a compliant press stopped asking (bad form!), that's a statistic that need not worry the pretty little talking-heads of the networks. But surprisingly enough, and much to his credit, David Letterman raised the subject last week to none other than that serial-reality-denier John McCain, who got predictably flustered when Letterman said: "Untold Iraqis dead. We rarely hear that number. What would that number be? A quarter of a million? Half a million?"
"It's hard to make these estimates," McCain said, "but it's in the hundreds of thousands, obviously."
Well, it's doubtful that even round-the-clock fatality counts blazing in electric lights against the night sky, like the Deaths from Smoking billboards in L.A., would help a mind like McCain's in its daily battle against denial and/or dementia, but according to the best recent estimates, here's the figure, John, and here's the figure, American news outlets, if you're interested:
That's an educated guess, of course, pieced together by the few who still care, based on figures from The Lancet, the British medical journal. Too bad it can't be fixed with the same grim statistical purity as our own casualty figures; but then death is a sloppier business over there, underneath the rubble, in the bombed restaurants and devastated apartments and blood-soaked schools.
And, of course, you can't expect American reporters--I'm sorry, embeds -- to roam around counting up every dead Iraqi child.
It's too dangerous over there!
And there isn't really an audience for that kind of news.