Bored with War

Why has Philly TV news stopped covering local casualties in Afghanistan? The answer is simple — and despicable

Every night on the local newscasts we would hear their names and see their faces. Every day reporters would report from the homes of devastated families or from a funeral home. Every night the anchors would recite the death toll out of Iraq, like telethon hosts showing a morbid tote board.

I was one of those anchors. [SIGNUP]

I remember the sense of purpose in the newsroom to show the face and tell the story of every single local man and woman who gave their life in service to country.

And then it stopped.

It’s not that men and women were no longer dying in war. The Philadelphia TV stations and local TV stations across the country just suddenly and inexplicably stopped reporting on the great sacrifice of national heroes.

Nineteen-year-old Austin Harper Gates Benson and 21-year-old Ronald Alan Kubik are two such heroes. Austin is from Hellertown, Pennsylvania, just outside Allentown. Ronald is from Brielle, New Jersey, near Point Pleasant.

In the last month, both young men died in Afghanistan.

Two young men from our area who joined the armed services at a time of war, Benson the Air Force, Kubik the Army, and were sent into the thick of it in Afghanistan. Both had a sense of purpose and a deep love and belief in America and neither warranted even 20 seconds on any of the local newscasts.

This is at a time when the war in Afghanistan has escalated and more American men and women are dying there than at any time since the invasion in the fall of 2001. One hundred eight servicemen and women have died in the first quarter of this year, which is more than double the casualties during the same time in 2009. Over the last year, 476 American servicemen have died in Afghanistan compared to 581 in the previous seven-and-a-half years.

So why isn’t Afghanistan getting the same attention from the media that Iraq it when things were at their worst? Iraq has just gone through its most stable year since the war began. In the first quarter, 25 American have died in Iraq, down from 63 in 2009 and far down from the peak of the war.

Some will blame a liberal bias in the media. Iraq, they will say, was Bush’s war and the nightly reminder of the casualties was an editorial attack of his administration. Now that Barack Obama is President, the media is looking the other way.

I do not argue the bias, but I don’t think it’s the reason for the local media ignoring all but ignoring the wars in 2010. It is something much more insidious. The local TV stations just got bored with the wars and stopped caring. In a constant quest for ratings and revenue, local news departments have relegated the wars and their casualties to the bottom of the new coverage food chain; down there with prison stories, budget stories and the homeless problem, other topics local news managers have decided are sure-fire ratings killers.

I was there during the change in attitude about war coverage and it was in the last two years of the Bush Administration. I remember being incensed when a 30-second story of a local soldier killed in Iraq was pulled from the 11 o’clock newscast so that more time could be given to a “Special Report” on two of the station’s news personalities taking skating lessons. I remember when the news departments stopped covering the funerals of local servicemen and women, unless it was a slow news day and the funerals weren’t too far away. Like the funerals of Austin Benson and Ronald Kubik.

The local news managers will privately argue that both men’s homes were too far away to cover. And yet the news departments will tout their coverage of the Lehigh Valley, where Benson’s family lives; and rushed to do nightly live shots from Tom’s River when its Little League team was in the World Series. Tom’s River is past Brielle, where Ronald Kubik’s family lives.

I ask the local TV news managers to put aside their political feelings, their feelings about the wars and even their quest for ratings above all, to pay honor to every single man and woman from the area who died in Iraq and Afghanistan. It will take 30 seconds in your newscast and you will not lose a single viewer.

You shouldn’t do it for ratings. You should do it because it is the right thing to do; because you have a responsibility to the communities you serve.

Austin Benson and Ronald Kubik died for us. The least we can do is remember.