American soldiers charged with keeping a skull, finger bones and leg bones from Afghan corpses as trophies. Twelve American soldiers charged with a total of 76 crimes, including the premeditated murders of three Afghan civilians (possibly for sport) and the beating of one or more fellow soldiers. Sounds like an outtake from Predator. It's not.
This story didn't knock a pathetic "pastor" with a half baked scheme to burn the Qu'ran off cable news? This didn't make it to the front pages of the web sites of the major cable TV news outlets by midnight Saturday?
The admirable Army Times had the story, which they've recently updated. The AP had the story on the 8th. The Guardian, the AP and McClatchy had extensive, horrifying stories on the 9th. Huffington Post covered it on Friday, as did the Daily Mail in the UK. Slowly, print has picked it up. All these stories were factual, well researched, responsible with different narratives. The Drudge Report picked up the Daily Mail's story. So I guess once Drudge had it, 23 year old TV bookers noticed it.
It may not have been up to the young bookers not to cover what is clearly a massive story. They may have brought it up in editorial meetings and been knocked back. Told "we're on a roll with the lunatic pastor, the ratings are way up, we already have reporters in the field, it works with 9/11, nobody cares about Afghanistan, it's a downer, don't get in the way of our story, get me some more coffee".
OK. A couple things. It's BODY PARTS. If all you care about is the ratings, then you've got skulls, finger and leg bones as trophies, 76 crimes including the murder of three Afghan civilians, hashish smoking, guys ratting out each other, the cover up, kill teams, killing for sport, hitting, kicking, strangling, dragging and spitting, gruesome photographs (good visuals), Wasilla Alaska (really), desperate, failed attempts to whistle blow on Facebook and a young, green hero.
Early Sunday, four days after the AP had it, this story was absent from the web sites of the major US news organizations. Instead, on their front pages under top stories we had: CNN "Tiny gal eats 181 wings in 12 mins"; MSNBC "Americans still skipping fruits veggies"; Fox "Massive iceberg crashes into island splits in 2". The BBC and al Jazeera English both had the story, not on their front pages, but under the US, and Central and South Asia respectively. Funny how you often have to go outside the US to find negative stories about the US.
Is it an excuse that Saturday was 9/11? No. It's actually possible to tell two stories. Oh, get this, we're in Afghanistan because of 9/11 - sooo - linkage?
There's been a lot of hand wringing and forehead smiting this week about playing into the hands of al Qaeda by talking about a former hotel manager turned cult leader blackmailer who was going to burn Qu'rans. (There was almost NO talk on TV about his very shady past in Germany and in Florida, extensively documented in print, and nicely summarized by TPM.) What really plays into the hands of al Qaeda is American soldiers murdering Afghan civilians for sport, keeping body parts as trophies and covering it up. (These soldiers have only been charged. They have not been convicted.)
The American public has a right to know about the heroism of its soldiers, like Sgt Salvatore Giunta, the first living serviceman from the Iraq or Afghan wars to receive the Medal of Honor, as well as the atrocities committed by men and women in uniform. The media have the obligation to report it.
Cable news will give this hideous story some coverage as it becomes "mainstream" and hard to ignore. If the cable networks decide to go all out on the story, will it be because it's important, or because it's a ratings grabber? Or will they stay away because it's Afghanistan and "nobody cares", or because it would be "playing into the hands of al Qaeda"?
There are very responsible journalists and editors at cable news, as well as people whose job is just to make money for the network. That's the business. I'm in the radio end. Who wins the coverage war? Agony, forehead smite, hand wring, chest beat.
"Is it going to be bigger than Abu Ghraib? Guantanamo? Hey, maybe we could get General Petraeus to come on and ask us not to cover it, then when we do anyway, Secretary Gates comes on. Then Robert Gibbs gives a rambling reply to a question from the front row about it, Secretary Clinton gets in on the act somehow, and, maybe, if we get really bad protests and flag burnings and an accidental death if we're lucky, the President will weigh in. Then we can blame him for stirring it up. Big Sis raises the threat level. We get family members of the soldiers - there's 12 of them, should be able to find someone, maybe a pregnant, crying wife. This could run and run. It's a ratings bonanza - it could put Afghanistan back on the map for us. We've spent enough effing money on it already. Get that cute little booker back in here.'