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Grand Rapids Press acts as an echo chamber for the Military

December 27, 2011

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks GRIID has conducted 7 different studies of the local news media’s coverage of the so-called war on terror, with particular attention to the US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The last study we conducted in the summer of 2009 looked at the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the US occupation of Afghanistan, now in its 11th year. In that report we identified three major elements about the Press coverage: 1) the paper did not question the Pentagon’s framing of the US motives for being in Afghanistan, 2) the sources used in the coverage were primarily Associated Press stories with predominantly US government/military personnel being those cited in the articles, and 3) when there was any local reporting it focused on local military families who were in support of the war in Afghanistan.

Today, the Grand Rapids Press continues this type of pro-military reporting with an article entitled, Families of troops in Afghanistan want Americans to remember ‘there is still a war going on.’

The article by Press reporter Ted Roelofs cites exclusively military family members, military personnel and a wounded veterans project coordinator, all of which are supportive of the ongoing US occupation of Afghanistan.

Apart from the sources cited the other major problem in this story is the tone of both the sources and the Press writer himself. Early on in the article the Press reporter is talking about one family that has both a son and a daughter in the military that are likely headed to Afghanistan. The Press reporter then says the military family member, “is justifiably proud of their service.” The reporter doesn’t qualify what he means by justifiably, but it seems clear to this writer that such a statement is an endorsement for those in the military.

This pro-military attitude is continued with a statement from one of the military family members who talks about his kids going to Afghanistan. “I think it’s the greatest thing that could happen. Without people like that, we would not have the rights for these boneheads to be protesting against their government.”

Of course this military dad has every right to believe what he is saying, but the Press reporter doesn’t question such a statement or at least balance it out with an anti-war perspective.

Don’t forget there is a war in Afghanistan

Besides the pro-war sentiments in both the military families and the Press reporter the other major journalistic flaw in this story is that it is implied in the headline that we need to be reminded of the US war going on in Afghanistan.

One could certainly argue that corporate media has failed to make the US war in Afghanistan an issue over the past year. According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism only 2% of all major news stories in 2011 were about Afghanistan. This is a drop from the 2010 coverage of Afghanistan, where 4% of the major US news coverage was devoted to that war.

However, beyond the failure of the US media to make the US occupation of Afghanistan news worthy, there is also the failure to report on it outside of the framing provided by the Pentagon.

First, there is very little coverage of US veterans of that war, both those who are suffering from physical and psychological wounds as has been well documented in a 10-part series entitled Beyond the Battlefield.

Second, there is virtually no reporting on what the impact of the 11-year US occupation has had on the Afghan people. The Chicago-based group Voices for Creative Non-violence have been documenting atrocities committed against the Afghan people since 2009.

Third, there has been a virtual blackout in the commercial news media about US veterans who have served in Afghanistan and are now speaking out against this war. There was a major speaking tour this past October and Afghan war vets have been an active part of Occupy movement around the country. I wonder if the military family member cited in the Press article would call these veterans “boneheads” as well?

Lastly, we are all remind of the 11-year US war in Afghanistan in an indirect way, since the money spent on this brutal military occupation has cost the public over $486 Billion and counting. This means that for the state of Michigan, over $11 Billion has left the state to pay for this war and over $175 Million has left Grand Rapids. Thus, we are all too often reminded of this war since the lack of funding of public services has diminished significantly, leaving families by the millions in the US without basic necessities as adequate housing, food, education and health care.

If the Grand Rapids Press reported on the US occupation of Afghanistan through an independent lens and not that of the Pentagon, we might actually not need to be reminded of the 11-year war by military families who seem to have contempt for those who oppose the war.

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