American media’s approach to war coverage needs to be fundamentally reimagined. We need more reporting on forgotten conflicts — and more stories that spotlight how war ravages people and leads to atrocities.
Last month, the big three U.S. television networks spent as much or more time covering Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as any other conflict during any month of the past three decades — including the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. The war in Ukraine is receiving the attention it deserves, but we have seen troublingly little coverage of raging conflicts in other parts of the world. Yemen’s civil war, for example, received 92 minutes of coverage on the three broadcast networks from 2015 through 2019 — compared with the 562 minutes of coverage Ukraine received in March 2022 alone. The Tigray War in Ethiopia receives only occasional mentions on any channel –– even though researchers estimate the conflict has killed as many as 500,000 people and displaced 2 million more in less than two years. And in June 2021, just two months before Afghanistan fell to the Taliban, major cable networks spent only 13 minutes reporting on what one historian called “the least reported war since World War I.” (That is, until it came time for cable news to decry the United States’ long-overdue withdrawal.)
Worse, the coverage that does exist tends to frame war in the abstract: What’s the strategy? Who’s “winning” the war? Recent Ukraine coverage notwithstanding, rarely does the media report war’s devastation on individual human beings. This obscures war as a force that displaces people from their homes, robs them of their loved ones, and strips them of the chance to have a life and a future.
Throughout coverage of the Ukraine crisis, we have heard from scores of pundits shocked that war could happen in a so-called “civilized” country. But violence on this scale should always be horrifying. Hunger, sickness and death are attributes of war no matter where it is fought.
Read the full article in the Washington Post.