“What is the first casualty of war?” former military reporter Rick Scavetta asked a group of city residents yesterday. Without hesitation, the audience replied with the expected, but unfortunate, answer: “Truth.”
Scores of city residents gathered at the New Haven Free Public Library on Thursday evening to hear Scavetta, former chief of media relations for a security forces unit in Afghanistan and reporter for the Stars and Stripes military newspaper, talk about the problems and deficiencies in media coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Focusing on his personal interactions with reporters in Afghanistan, he discussed the disparity between soldiers’ actual experiences at the front and the news that reaches the American public, saying that the media is doing an insufficient job of conveying the reality of the situation.
Many reporters are more occupied with their own agenda when they are supposed to be covering the war, he said. Most reporters aren’t looking for what he called actual stories — like showing the lives of ordinary soldiers, for example — and instead focus on covering what sells. Rather than relating what the American public needs to hear, he said, television news is marketing the war as if it is part of a “public affairs campaign.”
“The media knows that the general public at large is not interested in casualties,” said Scavetta, who served with the Combined Joint Task Force 76 in Afghanistan. “They want to, they must, show Afghanistan as a success story.”
As a result, he said, the stories of actual individuals sacrificing in the war are left unsung— including the over 700 Connecticut citizens serving in Afghanistan. He said one of the issues underreported by media sources is the challenges veterans face when they come back from the war and must exchange their uniforms for a suit. Community support, severely lacking at present, would greatly help in their reintegration into society, he said.
But not all reporting is bad, he said, as many journalists do make a genuine effort to get the soldier’s perspective.
Those in attendance said they found Scavetta’s presentation illuminating, and enjoyed hearing a military journalist talk about his experiences.
“It was the most decent, honest and necessary presentation that provided us with what’s really going on in Iraq and Afghanistan,” said George Edwards, who served in the Air Force from 1955 to 1961.
But several attendees said that while they agreed with Scavetta’s points, reporters have an even larger task in front of them than he indicated. Dennis Hamilton, who worked as a volunteer teacher in Afghanistan in the 1960s, said in addition to soldiers, the point of view of the Afghani people must not be forgotten.
Like Hamilton, Joe, who declined to give his last name, said reporters must even go past looking at the war from ordinary soldiers’ perspectives. Joe served in the Army from 1952 to 1954.
“I think there should be a dialogue that [also] looks at it from [the enemy’s] point of view,” he said. “A lot of the information you’re going to get is biased, so you have to find unbiased sources or wait five to 10 years for history to tell the story.”