Mixed signals: Soldier, journalists give perspectives on Iraq coverage


Flip to any major news station or Web site today, and it is almost guaranteed there will be at least one article, story or update about the war in Iraq.

However, this news is rarely positive, and many who were or still are involved with the war, like K-State student and 2006 Army veteran Sgt. Lupe, are tired of the nation only getting details of death and destruction overseas.

Lupe asked that his full name not be used in this story.

“The media just seems to report a lot of bad stuff that’s going on over there,” Lupe said. “There is a lot of bad stuff going on, but there is a lot of good stuff too. The bad stuff – I think it just grabs people’s attention more so than the good stuff that’s going on.”

But Fred Brock, assistant professor of journalism and mass communications and New York Times freelance writer, offered insight.

“Can you imagine if a newspaper in the country reported on all the planes that landed safely in the U.S.?” he said. “No one would read that. It’s the plane that crashes that makes the news.”

Brock said no matter what, war is a negative activity; it’s a sign diplomacy has failed, and he said it’s hard to put a positive spin on that.

But even so, Lupe said he believes the media portrays the war in a more negative light than it should be.

“It’s upsetting,” he said, “but I try not to spend too much time watching it.”

An example of this, he said, is the issue of stop-loss – soldiers being reinstated at the end of their contracts.

News stories and films like the MTV movie, “Stop-Loss,” have led viewers to believe soldiers are desperately wanting to get out of the Army, but are continually being stop-lossed to make up for a lack of enrollment. Though soldiers, including Lupe, have been stop-lossed, he said the media still are exaggerating its effects on the Army and the soldiers.

“I’ve been stop-lossed a couple times, but it happens,” he said. “The Army’s been rolling along since this country was brought up. When there’s soldiers that keep getting out, there’s going to be soldiers that keep coming in, so I don’t think [the Army or its soldiers are] hurting in any way.”

Lupe, junior in biology, said he had no specific reason to join the Army, he “just knew” he would while growing up in Washington state. In 1996, at the age of 25, he enlisted.

Lupe said he remembered being on duty when the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks occurred.

“I was getting ready to get off duty,” he said, “then everybody started running and started talking about planes crashing into the World Trade Center, and then a few hours after that, we got the orders to get ready, pack all our bags and take off.”

Shortly after, Lupe was sent to Kuwait and later Iraq, where he served as a combat engineer, primarily working as an improvised explosive device hunter.

Though he said most of his time in Iraq was spent finding IED’s and caches before they could hurt other coalition soldiers, Lupe said he and his brigade also worked on projects to improve the cities and communities where they were stationed.

“We also helped build bridges, improve roads, provided a lot of jobs and rebuilt schools,” he said. “One of my buddies that died over there, before he died, had told his mom that he wanted her to send school supplies. So we got to do that after he died – his mom had already sent it – and we’d go to local schools and give pens and paper to local kids and stuff like that. You know, that wasn’t everyday stuff that we did, but we did a lot of that.”

Lupe said television news and the Internet are the two media sources he thinks neglect the war’s positive influence the most.

However Stacy Neumann, journalism and mass communications instructor and former news anchor, said the tone of the media’s coverage depends on what level the news is reporting from.

“The national media’s job is to talk more about national policy, whether or not things are working and to sort of look at those larger issues,” she said. “So by that very nature, it’s going to take a critical eye.

“But local coverage, if you’re going to look at the Manhattan Mercury or our local NBC affiliate in Topeka, their coverage talks about smaller issues and how our local soldiers are interacting, how they’re doing and how they’re living. People tend to perceive that as a little more positive.”

Neumann covered local militaries while working out of North Carolina and Alabama as well as working as an embedded journalist in Afghanistan before the war in Iraq.

She said many people think broadcasters only report the negative issues and the downside of war, but she said people also need to keep in mind the nature of news.

“It’s our job to point out things that are going wrong or the small things that could be going better,” Neumann said. “Unfortunately, we’re not always there to say, ‘This is going right; this is what’s happening well.’ There’s certain things you’re expected to do [as a journalist], and we always point out the anomalies in the world.”

When it comes to reporting or listening to news about the war, Neumann said she tries not to think in terms of negative or positive, because in addition to being a journalist, she is a military wife. She said as long as reporters are being fair and truthful in their reporting, even if others view it as negative, people need to respect it.

“As long as I’m upholding my profession’s integrity … it’s not about whether it’s negative or positive,” she said. “It’s about what actually is. That’s how I look at news – is it right, or is it not right.”

Lupe said he understands that death counts and invasions need to be reported. However, he said he just wishes media would add more balance to their coverage by showing Americans more of the positive outcomes of the war – like his brigade rebuilding Iraqi schools.

“There’s really no good thing about war overall,” Lupe said. “People are dying. But I think, eventually, Iraq will be better from it – that’s my positive opinion from us going in and helping them out.

“I think that because of all the constant portrayal of the deaths and bombs and all this other stuff – it’s all negative, negative, negative …

“They definitely need to report all the deaths and all that other stuff that’s going on, but they should also go out and see the good stuff that’s going on – the more positive stuff.”