Out of Sight, Out of Mind
It was a simple idea: Let's put faces to the names of soldiers New Mexico sacrificed to the war effort. The cover of the Alibi this week is, in plainest terms, a reminder of what these last five years have cost.
I've worked at newspapers since just after 9/11. I remember when we went to war and all the headlines that followed. I've copyedited AP story after AP story about suicide bombers, handmade roadside bombs, gunfire and casualties—American or otherwise. I wrote a headline the day the U.S. death toll hit 2,000. Then two more soldiers died. Then another. Today, the official count is around 4,000, though that number differs depending on who you ask.
All along the way, I wondered: Are people reading these stories? They’ve been shuffled from A1 to A6 to A10. And, similarly, reader interest is dropping, too. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, only 16 percent of Americans, when asked what's in the news, name the Iraq War. The amount of space devoted to Iraq by news outlets dropped radically last year, too. In January, 26 percent of the newshole was going to Iraq, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. In June and August, that number dropped to 11 percent.
Didn't the national media learn their lesson the first time they stopped asking smart questions and telling the stories of the Iraq War? You remember, right? Back when we first went to war?
Maybe people just aren't interested. Headline after headline about casualties and policy cause a nearly subconscious public blind spot. "More Dead in Iraq" in 24-point bold might as well declare "Something Something" to the numbed audience.
Or maybe, once again, the national media is falling down on its job of finding and presenting compelling stories.
A death toll is one thing to marvel at. The tale of one soldier and the difficulty of adjusting back to the civilian world, of a young married couple who have only been in one another's presence for one-fifth of their married life—putting a face to the name to the number—it's not these stories the public's blipped out. Human tales still need telling.
As the elections vacuum more time and space in our nation's media, as you watch the politicos talk about Iraq plans and strategy and what they would do if they were in office, keep in mind that there are faces in that death toll. Ask your media when they're going to show them to you.
It's crucial we remember the war on its five-year anniversary. The more urgent and onerous task is remembering it every day after.