Those Who Gave Lives Not Political Pawns

If every one of the people who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were to be named and identified on TV, would it be considered an unpatriotic act? Of course not.

If every one of the people who perished in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks were to be named and identified on TV, would it be considered an unpatriotic act? Of course not.

Yet somehow, in the wake of the controversy over the April 30 edition of ABC News' "Nightline," the idea of individually identifying America's war dead in Iraq is seen as motivated by liberal demagoguery and propaganda.

When I heard that "Nightline" would run the pictures and read the names of some 700-plus of our troops and non-combat personnel who have perished in Iraq, I thought maybe I'd gotten it wrong and that the show was actually being accused of having a "pro-war" agenda.

But that clearly wasn't how executives at Maryland-based Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns more than 60 TV stations, saw things when it pulled its own act of partisanship by yanking the "Nightline" edition from its eight ABC affiliates. Sinclair said the broadcast was "motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq." But the only agenda, of course, was Sinclair's.

Robert McChesney, president of Free Press--described as a national media reform group--stressed in an interview, "No one thinks for a second that this decision had anything to do with journalism."

We have to wonder why it's considered a slam at the president to name and honor those who have defended our country in battle. Are we pretending that nobody's really dying over there?

How else to explain the brouhaha that erupted over the release of the photos of the flag-draped coffins of America's service dead? Perhaps it played havoc with someone's disinformation campaign surrounding the Iraq War.

It turned out that the April 30 "Nightline" was tasteful, moving, extraordinary--and decidedly apolitical.

"Our goal was to elevate the fallen above the politics and the daily journalism," "Nightline" anchor Ted Koppel added in a closing thought, "and was neither intended to provoke opposition to the war, nor was it meant as an endorsement."

Unfortunately, in these incendiary times, there is no such thing as impartiality from the perspective of some. Everyone comes at these issues with his own biases firmly in place (me included). It's simply that some acknowledge it more readily than others.

As Koppel told the journalistic Web site Poynter Online before the show aired, "Why in heaven's name should one not be able to look at the faces and hear the names and see the ages of those young people who are not coming back alive and feel somehow ennobled by the fact that they were willing to give up their lives for something that is in the national interest of all of us?"

I'll tell you why not: Because we're waist-deep in the big muddy with a White House and Congress that has let its intolerant will be known--and it's the big media congloms and station groups who are repeatedly being obliged to blink.

There's a strict and increasingly puritan new moral code, and one had best get with the program or pay the price, financially and otherwise. The "Nightline" furor is simply another offshoot of this larger picture, where corporations feel compelled to do content suppression back flips and then beg for treats like so many lapdogs.

One would hope that the next step isn't having to send rough-cuts of primetime shows to the Office of Homeland Security for pre-approval. But these days, all bets are off.