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A curious phenomenon happened after the fall of the Taliban and the initial preparation for the Iraq invasion -- Afghanistan disappeared. Oh, not physically, perhaps, although judging from the paucity of news coverage from the newest democracy in Southwest Asia, one could be tempted to reach that conclusion. Now American Journalism Review reports on the vanishing Afghanis and the reason why we hear nothing of their progress:
Once a journalism hot spot, Afghanistan was all but left behind when the media's spotlight turned to the conflict in Iraq. In June/July 2003, AJR reported that only a handful of reporters remained in the struggling country on a full-time basis, while other news organizations floated correspondents in and out when time and resources permitted.
A year and a half later, Afghanistan has become even more of an afterthought. Only two news organizations--Newsweek and the Washington Post--have full-time reporters stationed in Kabul, the capital. Other major newspapers, such as the Chicago Tribune and Los Angeles Times, rely on stringers in Afghanistan and correspondents based in New Delhi, India, to cover the region, a stark contrast to the hundreds of reporters pouring into Iraq since the war began. The New York Times uses a stringer, albeit a full-time one. Television networks have nearly disappeared.
With the establishment of a new government and building of infrastructure, a continuing U.S. military presence and the hunt for terrorists, Afghanistan is rife with stories of long-term consequence. Roy Gutman, a veteran Newsday correspondent who became its foreign editor in July, has long criticized the media for their lack of solid, in-depth coverage of what he calls one of the major conflicts of our time and the true beginning of the battle against al Qaeda. Now that major fighting is over, "it's very important to keep a spotlight on Afghanistan to see whether the U.S. government is able to manage it and able to succeed," he says.
Indeed it is, and the Afghanistan phase has had its victories and defeats. Gutman says he's concerned about the supposedly systematic abuse of Afghani prisoners by American militar, but mostly we'd like to get more information on how the new democracy has performed for Afghanistan. The introduction of a self-governing republic in that region, and a fairly secular one at that, should be one of the best stories in the past century. Historians should be sharpening pencils and furiously taking notes, as what has for centuries been a hardscrabble source of upheaval transforms itself (hopefully) into an exporter of democracy.
Instead, the journalists and their corporations have decided that nothing bleeds in Afghanistan any longer, and the attention span and political biases of their masters force a shift of resources to Iraq. I have no problem with Iraq receiving extensive coverage, although I would hardly characterize what we get as particularly deep. We see and hear about bombings, shootings, and beheadings all day long, but the lack of any news outside the most troubled areas of the Sunni Triangle wind up getting the Afghanistan treatment. The result is a skewed, overly pessimistic and unrealistic picture of our progress in Iraq as a whole -- and an almost-complete blackout of Afghanistan as well.
How bad has the mainstream media retreat been? Kim Hart gives the numbers at the end:
Full time in January 200
Washington Post: 1 reporter
New York Times: 1 full-time stringer
Newsweek: 1 reporter
ABC: 1 full-time freelance producer
Full time in May 2003
Washington Post: 1 reporter
New York Times: 1 full-time stringer
Associated Press: at least 3 reporters
Chicago Tribune: 1 full-time stringer
Christian Science Monitor: 1 reporter
CNN: a team of 4, including 1 reporter
NBC News/MSNBC: 1 reporter-producer
NPR: 1 correspondent
Reuters: a team of 5, including 3 print staffers
The lack of resources in covering what should still be considered a theater of war is appalling. The media have abandoned their responsibilities in reporting the news, instead focusing on the headlines that fit their predetermined narrative. Obviously, Afghanistan no longer fits in that strategy -- which may tell us far more than any of their coverage would have in the first place.Sphere It View blog reactions
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» Shifting Attention from PoliPundit.com
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