"And some there be, which have no memorial who are perished,
they had never been, and are becomes as though they had never been
born. . . ."
The good news is that the Sinclair Broadcast Group is just as
concerned with the deaths of U.S. service people in Iraq as the rest
of us. That wasn't obvious a year ago. It is now. It was sad to
think that a wealthy and powerful media conglomerate was not
concerned about the loss of human life in Iraq and thought any
attempt to put faces to the names of the dead was a ploy designed to
help John Kerry become president of the United States. It started a
year ago, almost to the day.
Ted Koppel announced that he intended to read the names of all the
service personnel who had been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during
the preceding year on his news program Nightline. Conservatives
became very upset. They thought drawing attention to the fact that
service people were being killed in Iraq and Afghanistan might cause
citizens to grieve and become disenchanted with the idea of war.
They thought if that happened it might help John Kerry become elected
president, a fate, so they thought, worse than the death of our
service personnel unless, of course, one of the dead happened to be a
member of one of their families. When Mr. Koppel announced his plans
before Memorial Day in 2004 more than 500 military personnel had been
Mr. Koppel did not intend to read the list of those who had been
wounded. There were more than 5000 of them and time would not permit
such a recital. ("Wound" is a word that doesn't adequately describe
its victims. According to a report by Yaroslav Trofimov of the Wall
Street Journal on October 29, 2003, medical personnel working with
the wounded are appalled by the injuries they see on a daily basis.
Describing surgery he had performed on one serviceman, an orthopedic
surgeon said of his patient: "His nerves and blood vessels were just
shredded. There wasn't anything to fix in his arm. He'll have to
adjust to his new life." An assistant nurse said: "It's like a
horror movie. I served in a trauma unit. I saw death in the face-
but nothing like here. And those who live, you've got to wonder how
they are going to make it back in the states." They wonder too.)
Sinclair Broadcast Group was sure that reading the names and showing
the faces of the dead was an inappropriate thing to do on a day
designed to remember and honor those who died in all wars. It said
telling the people the names and showing the faces of the dead was an
attempt to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq. Barry
Faber, the general counsel for Sinclair who very likely spent no time
being shot at in Baghdad told its ABC affiliates not to air the
program. He said: "We find it to be contrary to public interest."
Sinclair said ABC was politicizing the war by broadcasting the
program. One year ago Sinclair preferred not to have people reminded
of the fact that war kills. It would have been doubly upset had the
program also described the wounded.
Commenting on Sinclair's action Senator John McCain, who knows more
about war than people at Sinclair, said of its decision in 2004:
"Your decision to deny your viewers an opportunity to be reminded of
war's terrible costs, in all their heartbreaking detail, is a gross
disservice to the public, and to the men and women of the United
States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic."
2005 is a different year. Ted Koppel repeated the program on
Memorial Day, 2005. He read the names of the more than 900 American
military personnel killed in Iraq or Afghanistan in the past year.
Sinclair did not order its stations to broadcast something else in
its place. It said: "Sinclair Broadcast Group applauds 'Nightline'
for paying tribute to those servicemen and women killed in Iraq and
Afghanistan by reading their names on Memorial Day, a day set aside
to honor our fallen heroes." It went on to explain that in 2004
Memorial Day coincided with the start of the May ratings sweeps" and
therefore, one presumes, focusing on the dead was inappropriate.
It is good that Sinclair now believes that honoring the dead is
appropriate for Memorial Day. The families of the 500 it chose to
ignore last year will probably feel a little sorrow hearing the names
and faces of the 900 Sinclair doesn't ignore this year. They
needn't. They have greater sorrows to deal with. Sinclair must live
with its demonstrated heartlessness. It doesn't have enough corporate
feeling to care.
Christoper Brauchli can be reached at Brauchli.firstname.lastname@example.org