Amidst the bloodiest month since the U.S.-led invasion began in March 2003, it has become clear that the loss of soldier's lives in Iraq is not just cause for anger, fear or mourning, it's also big business. For example, consider the April 30 broadcast of Nightline, in which anchorman Ted Koppel read aloud the names of U.S. servicemen killed in the Iraq war, while their pictures were shown on the screen. Pitched as a tribute, the Nightline episode is little more than a crass attempt to cash in during May sweeps, while stoking anti-war sentiment. "Sweeps week" is the period during which networks set their advertising rates for the year based on viewership shares. By coming up big during "sweeps," Nightline figured to honor hundreds of fallen soldiers and make lots of money.
Happily, at least one major broadcaster has refused to air the show. Sinclair Broadcasting, which owns 62 TV stations, has ordered its eight ABC affiliates to drop the episode. In a released statement, Sinclair denounced the Nightline episode as part of a "political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq."
"We understand that our decision in this matter may be questioned by some," continued the statement, "but before you judge our decision, we would ask that you first question Mr. Koppel as to why he chose to read the names of 523 troops killed in combat in Iraq, rather than the names of the thousands of private citizens killed in terrorist attacks since and including the events of September 11, 2001. In his answer, we believe you will find the real motivation behind his action."
In the interest of full disclosure, I should note that I am a paid on-air analyst with Sinclair.
That said, they make a good point. If the purpose of the broadcast was to honor the dead, then where are the pictures of those killed in Afghanistan? Furthermore, the timing of the Nightline episode is curious. Memorial Day is a more appropriate time to run a tribute to fallen soldiers. That Nightline chose the eve of the primaries to air this episode-as opposed to reporting on actual news items like ongoing developments in Fallujah-seems telling. A Nightline producer even admits that the episode was inspired by a 1969 issue of Life magazine that featured an 11-page photo layout, highlighting more than 200 servicemen killed in Vietnam during a one week period. A caption urged readers to "pause to look into the faces ... of one week's dead." The photo spread became a flashpoint in the anti war movement.
In their defense, ABC officials said the "Nightline" broadcast "simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country."