November 1st, 2009
11:05 AM ET
13 years ago

Reliable Sources: The forgotten war takes the spotlight

Washington (CNN) – One day after the end of the deadliest month for U.S. troops in Afghanistan, news from the once under-reported region continued to appear on the front pages of American newspapers and as lead stories on television, as the opposition candidate to the current Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced today he will not participate in a run-off presidential election. With stories this week ranging from whether President Obama will send 40,000 additional forces to Afghanistan, to reports that the C.I.A. is paying off Karzai's brother, the question begs: after eight years of this war, where has all the media coverage been?

Reliable Sources host Howard Kurtz asked this question to a panel of top reporters who answered unanimously the media coverage has been in Iraq, not Afghanistan.

Rajiv Chandrasekaran, associate editor for The Washington Post who just recently returned from Afghanistan, said the Afghan conflict simply doesn't have the number of reporters on the ground that Iraq did.

"I was in Baghdad in 2003, when U.S. forces arrived in that country, and there were probably upwards of, you know, newspaper reporters from 18 different American papers. Every single television network had a bureau there with multiple correspondents. Today, I mean, it's The New York Times and The Washington Post that have permanent bureaus there. CNN has a presence, but other American networks sort of rotate in and out. It [Afghanistan] is still a story that is getting much less coverage than Iraq was early on," Chandrasekaran said.

Barbara Starr, CNN's Pentagon correspondent who reported from Afghanistan in April of this year, said the struggling U.S. economy and financial hardships for newspapers are a contributing factor to the lack of international news coverage.

"I think for the big national news organizations, it's not the same problem it is for the local city newspapers, the regional newspapers, the local TV stations, who are really hit hard by the economy. And it's those hometown newspapers that are really the heart of covering this war in cities across America. Those hometown newspapers are disappearing," Starr said.

Terence Smith, a former media correspondent for PBS, said that the change in the amount of coverage of Afghanistan parallels the amount of attention the Bush and Obama administrations paid to the war.

"I think it reflects the administration as well. Afghanistan was the forgotten country. Attention was diverted to Iraq.

News media attention went with it. Now it's back, and rightly so. Now it's a living room war again just as Vietnam was, or a computer screen war, if you like," Smith said.

Starr said another parallel to the coverage of the Iraq war is complaints by senior officials about the lack of positive, uplifting stories in Afghanistan.

"It was astounding to me. This week, for the first time, I had a U.S. military official say to me, 'You people aren't reporting the good news about Afghanistan. Why don't you tell the good stories?'" Starr said. "I got it from a significant place, and it's everything you can do to say, I don't think General McChrystal, Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus would quite agree. These men are all saying publicly Afghanistan is in big trouble. That's the story right now."

Starr and Chandrasekaran agreed that covering Afghanistan has some geographical and logistical challenges that Iraq does not have.

"In Iraq, it was much easier for me to get in a helicopter and go out and see fighting in certain parts of the country,” Chandrasekaran said. “When you're out there embedded, it is so much more difficult in Afghanistan to actually go to different places in a short amount of time and see what's going on."

Smith said the increase in media attention could have an affect on the conflict itself.

"Does it build opposition to the war? Probably, it does," Smith said. " We do have two wars going on. But the attention in Afghanistan, utterly reasonable, given the increase in casualties, U.S. and NATO casualties there. Now, October being the bloodiest month of all. So it's completely to be expected, legitimate, and it's going to have an impact."

Filed under: Afghanistan • State of the Union
soundoff (3 Responses)
  1. No Hillary = No Obama

    Bumbling and fumbling. One of the Fox News commentators stated that Obama should not be playing golf while Americans are dying in Afghanistan. Bill O'r Reily thought that was ridiculous. The revealing part of Obama's disconnect is not they he is playing golf, but how much he seems to enjoy his self-indulgences while caskets keep arriving. Showing up to salute dead military is gestural, not substantive. What have Americans elected?

    November 1, 2009 03:34 pm at 3:34 pm |
  2. snowflake

    Bush thought he could "multi-task" and carry on (2) wars at the same time!! Soooooooooooooo, he put Iran on the back burner while he was dealing with Iraq!! AND NOW THE OBAMA ADMINISTRATION HAS TO CLEAN UP THE MESS BUSH/CHENEY MADE, NOT ONLY IN THE WAR DEPARTMENT, BUT MOST OF ALL THE 21ST CENTURY RECESSION, THAT COST AMERICANS MILLIONS OF JOBS, TONS OF MONEY, AND COMPLETE FRUSTRATION IN LIVING THIS NIGHTMARE!!! What happened to the American Dream?????????

    November 1, 2009 03:38 pm at 3:38 pm |
  3. Robert

    its not the forgotten war its a war that was wage for a reason

    iraq was wage for revenge by buah afgan was wage because of what those terror leaders did to us

    I wish the media would focus on afgan the real war and not the fake war in iraq

    I am always thinking about those familes that lost people in iraq because of a revenge seeking bush

    November 1, 2009 04:12 pm at 4:12 pm |