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More From the War?

(AP)
Everybody has an idea of "How to Fix Nightly Network News." Go younger! No, wait, go older! Do more Paris Hilton! Show more Wayward Whales! Show Some Leg! But today – like those whales in that story from a month ago – J. Max Robins of Broadcasting and Cable swims upstream and tells the newscasts his secret:

More war.

That's right. More war. In a world where fluff, cotton candy, and pop culture are bleeding into most newscasts, Robins has decided that hard news – not to mention, harder to watch news – is the next big thing in niche broadcasting. And he suggests that more coverage, and more graphic coverage, is both responsible journalism and a value-added component of a nightly news broadcast:

My suggestion to all in the nightly-news game, even leader World News, is that they get a lot more aggressive in their coverage of the Iraq War and related stories. I'd advise them to provide even more graphic coverage of what's actually going on in Iraq and to never shy away from the gruesome toll the war is taking.

The story from the frontlines needs to be told no matter how terrifying the visuals can be, exactly because it can be so difficult to take in. More than 3,600 Americans have died and 26,000 have been wounded. One recent estimate puts the number of those soliders returning with post-traumatic stress disorder at 40%. And let's not forget the thousands of Iraqis, so many of whom are not combatants, who've also lost their lives.

Later on, he goes down the line of the litany of reasons not to do this: danger, expense, losing viewers to lighter fare. He only mentions in passing, though, the question of patriotism. And this is something that can't be given short shrift. In today's media environment – where the decision to call the situation in Iraq a "civil war" is seen as a traitorous affront – covering the war is painted as a political statement just as much as it is a journalistic story.

And that is a problem. When we ask questions like "How much coverage is too much?," and "Is covering the bad news appropriate or reckless?," we're engaging in a debate about coverage that is too often (wrongly) seen as a debate over the war itself. Whether it's showing coffins at Dover Air Force Base or showing more footage of the brutality of war, I get the feeling at times that the "show more graphic reality" position is assigned to anti-war activists who aim to shame viewers through additional exposure.

And while that may be partially true, it's only a piece of a more complicated argument. As a brother and close friend of Iraq veterans and the son of a Marine, I see the "show more graphic reality" position as a way of connecting us to the day-to-day reality of what our soldiers are facing. If all we see on the news is a still life of a mosque, Bush holding a Thanksgiving turkey or McCain walking the streets of Baghdad, we won't have the proper appreciation of the men who are being put in harm's way everyday. While we get a daily reminder of the brutal mathematics of the war – a certain number of soldiers injured or killed regularly – there is a cold remoteness to such a quantitative approach to the war that doesn't make it, well, real.

Regardless of one's feelings about what is happening or needs to happen in Iraq, the troops executing the mission on the micro level aren't deserving of anything but our respect and support. And part of doing that is understanding what they are enduring in the theater of war.

As far as Robins' argument about More War being a "unique selling proposition," I'd like to think that viewers and citizens are willing to be more engaged in the war being fought on the other side of the world. I'm not sure whether broadcasting more of the brutality of war will be good for business necessarily, but it would be good for America. Let's win some hearts and minds over here, too.