Two days after Sunday's Washington Post carried a letter from a
woman who asked "where was the coverage of my nephew or the other
soldiers" who were killed in the days after Michael Jackson died,
attacks in Afghanistan took the lives of seven U.S. soldiers, but their
deaths earned a total of less than one minute combined on the ABC, CBS
and NBC evening newscasts on Monday night - 1/20th the time devoted to
Jackson a week-and-a-half after he passed away.
Emblematic of the disparity in priorities, CBS anchor Katie Couric read her 13-second item on the deaths in Afghanistan as she sat in Los Angeles with the Staples Center, the venue for Jackson's memorial, in the background. Those 13 seconds were squeezed in around just over 13 minutes, more than half the newscast's 22 minutes, dedicated to Jackson - a disparity of 60-to-1 (790 v 13 seconds). ABC and NBC allocated about eight times more time to Jackson than Afghanistan (2:50 v 20 seconds on ABC; 3:00 v 23 seconds on NBC).
On CNN's Anderson Cooper 360, news reader Erica Hill and Cooper spent nearly 40 seconds discussing the "Wife-Carrying World Championship " in Sonkajarvi, Finland and how the winner got his wife's weight in beer, but allocated just 15 seconds to Afghanistan. (The Situation Room aired a full story on the challenges in Afghanistan.)
Even without Jackson it's doubtful these deaths would have generated significant television network coverage, as demonstrated by the MRC's 2006 study: "Touting Military Misdeeds, Hiding Heroes ."
The Monday BiasAlert item, "Regrets Media Didn't Memorialize a Soldier Killed Same Day Jackson Died ," recounted:
Army 1st Lt. Brian N. Bradshaw was killed in Afghanistan, fighting in a war to protect all Americans, the same day that Michael Jackson died, prompting a letter to the Washington Post, which the paper published on Sunday, from Bradshaw's aunt, Martha Gillis, who scolded media priorities:
My nephew, Brian Bradshaw, was killed by an explosive device in Afghanistan on June 25, the same day that Michael Jackson died. Mr. Jackson received days of wall-to-wall coverage in the media. Where was the coverage of my nephew or the other soldiers who died that week? There were several of them, and our family crossed paths with the family of another fallen soldier at Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies come "home." Only the media in Brian's hometown [in Washington State] and where he was stationed before his deployment [Alaska] covered his death.
The short reports on the losses in Afghanistan on the Monday, July 6 evening newscasts:
Charles Gibson on ABC's World News:
In Afghanistan, U.S. forces suffered the highest single-day loss of life in nearly a year. A total of seven U.S. troops were killed in a series of bombing attacks and firefights. Meanwhile, a suicide bomber attacked the gate of the main NATO base in southern Afghanistan. Two civilians were killed, 14 others, including two Afghan soldiers, were wounded.
Katie Couric on the CBS Evening News:
This was the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Afghanistan in nearly a year. Roadside bombs killed six in separate attacks in the north and south while in the east one soldier was killed in a firefight with insurgents.
Brian Williams on the NBC Nightly News:
This was a deadly day for U.S. forces in Afghanistan. Seven deaths in all, including four killed in a roadside bomb attack on U.S. military trainers in the northern part of Afghanistan. Two killed in another attack in the south. One more who died after a fire fight in the eastern region of the country. It was the worst one-day toll in almost a year of fighting.
- Brent Baker is Vice President for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center