NEW YORK - In a small box titled "Names of the Dead" on page 10, The New York Times recorded the passing of Cpt. Mark Paine this week, who died after a roadside bomb exploded near his vehicle in Iraq.
His local California newspaper, the Contra Costa Times, ran more than 700 words on Paine's death, including interviews with his mother, father and even his old Scoutmaster, while the San Francisco Chronicle ran a 500-word obituary.
Whether we are talking about the U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, or Afghanis. We are not thinking of them, whoever they are, as people -- they are faceless, they are just simply numbers and that is troublesome.
Yahya Kamalipour, head of the communications department at Purdue University
2,787 AND CLIMBING
Honor Guard members from Fort Dix's 1079th Garrison Support Unit carry the coffin of U.S. Army SPC Jose Louis Ruiz, after his funeral in New York August 24, 2005. With the U.S. military death toll hitting 2,787 on Friday, and with 73 deaths so far in October, it is shaping up to be the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the Falluja offensive two years ago. REUTERS/Chip East
This local coverage of U.S. military deaths "actually has a bigger affect on public opinion than the overall trends," said Matt Baum, an associate professor of politics at University of California, Los Angeles.
But with the U.S. military death toll hitting 2,787 on Friday, and with 73 deaths so far in October, it is shaping up to be the deadliest month for U.S. forces since the Falluja offensive two years ago.
Analysts said even local media coverage struggles to overcome the numbing affect of the steady flow of deaths.
"In Iraq, certainly while we were losing relatively small numbers of soldiers early on, I think that was a huge shock," said Max Boot, a senior fellow of national security studies at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations.
"But now that it's kind of accumulated it doesn't have as much of a shock value. This is reminiscent of (Soviet dictator Joseph) Stalin's phrase about how 'one death is a tragedy, a million deaths is a statistic.' There's some truth to that."
Boot and Baum both said threshold moments -- like the U.S. death toll reaching a key figure -- garner the greatest media coverage, but the spotlight on Iraq was likely to burn a little brighter now because of the impending U.S. congressional elections on November 7.
"You have got a heated election campaign underway and you are going to have lots of candidates highlighting it again and again and again," Baum said. "You are going to have a huge echo chamber effect that you wouldn't have in other months."
U.S. PUBLIC NUMB
The U.S. military said 10 U.S. soldiers were killed on Tuesday in one of the sharpest spikes of attacks on U.S. forces battling sectarian violence.
"I think it is true that when the numbers rise then it becomes less of a special case, we do become somewhat numb to it," said Paul Levinson, chair of the Fordham University Department of Communication and Media Studies.
"That said, I think the media have been reporting all that has been going on in Iraq so aggressively that by and large I think that people are still very tuned in to what's going on."
Boot said the U.S. deaths in Iraq were not having the same impact on society as the Vietnam War casualties because the U.S. forces in Iraq are all volunteers, unlike many of the troops in Vietnam who were drafted.
"So it had more of an impact across all of society, whereas the impact here is more isolated because so many of the soldiers come from military communities which are clustered in a handful of states," he said.
The number of U.S. forces killed in Vietnam and Korea were also much higher. The Pentagon puts the number killed in from 1964-1973 at over 58,000, and in the Korea War from 1950-1953, at over 36,000.
Yahya Kamalipour, head of the communications department at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, said that if the
media showed footage of the actual U.S. military deaths in Iraq then it would reduce some of the public numbness.
"Whether we are talking about the U.S. casualties, Iraqi casualties, or Afghanis. We are not thinking of them, whoever they are, as people -- they are faceless, they are just simply numbers and that is troublesome," he said.
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