Finally, the Iraq Wounded Matter

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Ever hear
of a guy named Jerry Durbin? No? OK, let me use his proper name.
Did you ever hear of a guy named Jerry M. Durbin, Jr.? Not that
either? OK, let me try it with his title. Did you ever hear of Staff
Sgt. Jerry M. Durbin, Jr.? From Spring, Texas? Still doesn't ring
a bell? Staff Sgt. Jerry M. Durbin, B Company, 2nd Battalion,
502nd Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat
Team? No luck with that either? Well, just so you know, Staff Sgt.
Durbin died last Wednesday in Iraq after an improvised explosive
device detonated while he was on patrol. The honorable, 26 year-old
Staff Sgt. Durbin leaves behind a wife, two children, a stepdaughter
and his parents to pay him his final respects.

Let's try
another one. Ever hear of Bob Woodruff? "Of course!" you
just yelled. I would also bet you know that in the last 24 hours
Mr. Woodruff, reporting from Iraq for ABC News, suffered serious
injuries when an explosion hit the Iraqi vehicle in which he was
riding during a shootout near Baghdad. Luckily, Mr. Woodruff was
wearing full body armor but he and his cameraman, Bob Vogt, suffered
severe shrapnel wounds to their heads and upper bodies. Since they
were standing up in the vehicle's turret they were more exposed
and therefore more prone to injury. I wish both Messrs. Woodruff
and Vogt a speedy recovery and pray that none of their injuries
are life-threatening.

The reaction
of the press to Woodruff's (and Vogt's) injuries has been telling,
especially when compared to its reaction to the death of Staff Sgt.
Durbin. The New York Times thought it fitting that Woodruff's
wounds merited the lead story in Monday's paper, including not just
a color photo of him on its front page but also a larger, black
and white photo of him on the inside pages. Along with telling us
of his fluency in Mandarin and his previous career as a corporate
lawyer the Times saw the need to defend his gravitas by quoting
that, "A colleague at ABC says the men were u2018not being hot
dogs' while on assignment in Iraq." While we should not doubt
for a second that anyone who enters the Iraqi war zone is there
for the purpose of "hot dogging," the press' exaltation
of Mr. Woodruff's unfortunate injuries gives one pause. After all,
the press is a business like any other. It looks to sell a product,
in this case "news," by making it more attractive to potential
consumers. If ABC has its main anchor embedded in Iraq to do the
evening news, the thinking is that more viewers will tune in to
their broadcast. Mr. Woodruff accepted the risks of going to Iraq
in an effort to boost ABC's viewership.

Naturally,
one can dismiss the front page reporting of Mr. Woodruff's situation
as merely a case of "Man Bites Dog." The New York Post
ran a photo of George Stephanopoulos on his talk show yesterday.
Looking like he was about to burst into tears, Stephanopoulos' head
was lowered and his hand was covering his mouth. He was either thinking
"There but for the grace of God go I" or "Wow, real
people are getting hurt in Iraq." As far as I know, Stephanopoulos
made no such gesture when Staff Sgt. Durbin was slain.

The main
mention of Staff Sgt. Durbin's death in the Times was at
the bottom of page A8 in Saturday's edition, otherwise known as
"No Man's Land" in journalistic real estate. The paper
has been running its "Names of the Dead" box which lists
the total number of American servicemen officially reported as killed.
Saturday, Staff Sgt. Durbin's name appeared. And his name appeared
in font that is smaller than that used for its main articles. It
seems the editors of the Times are abiding by their credo
"All the News That's Fit to Print" in slightly modified
form — "All the News That's Fit to Print, But We Use a Smaller
Font for Stuff That We Either Don't Really Care About or Can't Be
Bothered With." How else to explain the fact that the 2,233
American soldiers killed to date merit nothing more than a small-font
blip in a box delicately buried somewhere so that readers will not
be offended by its inexorably increasing summary of carnage? Somehow
Mr. Woodruff's injuries matter more than 2,233 deaths.

We can
expect many more names like Staff Sgt. Durbin's festooning the Times'
"Names of the Dead" box in micro-font. Just like in Orwell's
Animal
Farm
, some animals are more equal than others. Sure, Mr.
Woodruff's wounds will sell more papers than Staff Sgt. Durbin's
death, as well as those of all the other underrepresented American
servicemen who have gone to an early rest. But what truly nauseates
those of us who are paying attention is the disparity in reaction
to the death of thousands of human beings as compared to the injuries
of one. We can expect more of this repulsive reaction until the
deaths in Iraq start to really "hit home." When the children
of the Times editorial staff start dying in the deserts of
the Middle East, when more TV reporters get hit with shrapnel, or
when some government official is wounded while visiting the troops,
then perhaps we can expect the proper amount of prudence in putting
the lives of loyal Americans like Staff Sgt. Jerry M. Durbin, Jr.
at mortal peril. Sad to say, this will not happen anytime soon.
Please make it a point to pay closer attention to the names appearing
in the "Names of the Dead" box and less time paying attention
to the front page of The New York Times. Better yet, just
stop reading it if you haven't already since playing along with
them will only encourage their behavior.

January
31, 2006

Mark
G. Brennan [send him email]
writes from New York City.

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