Editor's Note: This originally appeared on our sister publication TimesWatch.org.The New York Times's front-page report Thursday marking the 500th death in Afghanistan (most but not all in combat) tracks through the same muddy ruts as the paper's previous four stories marking each 1,000 fatality mark in Iraq. It's taken almost seven years of combat in Afghanistan to reach the plateau of 500, which occurred on July 22 of this year. Apparently the Times couldn't wait for 1,000. The paper goes on to blame the public for ignoring the Afghanistan war, even though the Times's coverage of the war has hardly been comprehensive -- except when things are going badly. The two-column story by Kirk Semple and Andrew Lehren is headlined "500: Deadly U.S. Milestone in Afghan War." The Times has commemorated each 1,000th death in Iraq as "grim" in a headline, usually as a "grim milestone."
"A grim milestone: 1000 U.S. Dead" -- A September 9, 2004 headline in the Times' letters section. "2,000 Dead: As Iraq Tours Stretch On, a Grim Mark" -- October 26, 2005 headline."A Grim Milestone in Iraq: 3000 American Deaths" -- January 1, 2007 front-page headline. "Another Grim Milestone for the Military" -- March 25, 2008 caption over a graphic as the paper marked 4,000 deaths in Iraq.
As fatality rates for U.S. troops have risen in Afghanistan and fallen off in Iraq, the paper has transferred its "grim" Iraq language to the Afghanistan war. Semple and Lehren began:
Not long after Staff Sgt. Matthew D. Blaskowski was killed by a sniper's bullet last Sept. 23 in eastern Afghanistan, his mother received an e-mail message with a link to a video on the Internet. A television reporter happened to have been filming a story at Sergeant Blaskowski's small mountain outpost when it came under fire and the sergeant was shot.
Since then, Sergeant Blaskowski's parents, Cheryl and Terry Blaskowski of Cheboygan, Mich., have watched their 27-year-old son die over and over. Ms. Blaskowski has taken breaks from work to watch it on her computer, sometimes several times a day, studying her son's last movements.
"Anything to be closer," she said. "To see what could have been different, how it -- " the bullet -- "happened to find him." For months, the Blaskowskis felt alone in watching their son die in an isolated and nearly forgotten war. And then, in June, the war in Afghanistan roared back into public view when American deaths from hostilities exceeded those in Iraq. In the face of an expanding threat from the Taliban, the conflict is becoming deadlier and much more violent for American troops, who three weeks ago reached their highest deployment levels ever, at 36,000.
The Times cited reports showing the U.S.-led NATO force in danger of losing in Afghanistan, then blamed the public for ignoring the war, while completely ignoring the media's culpability (how else would the mainstream public be expected to stay informed about Afghanistan)?
Such dark warnings, along with years of low interest in the conflict among many Americans and even political candidates, have led the families and friends of fallen American service members to wonder whether they perished for a winning cause, a losing one or, worse, a meaningless one....Back home, a sense of victory in Afghanistan, however premature or misguided, had taken hold, and the war had begun to fade from the American consciousness, eclipsed by the much larger, newer American-led effort in Iraq, which began in March 2003....But for Mr. Brewster and many other parents and relatives, the sense of a forgotten loss is more than personal. Many are convinced that the public's neglect of the war in Afghanistan is actually hurting the soldiers' chances of success.
For "the public's neglect," one can also read "the media's neglect." Did the Times consistently feature stories from Afghanistan before fatalities began to rise late last year? Hardly. Even back in March 2005, Times Watch noted the lack of hard news out of Afghanistan -- unless the Times could portray things as going awry