At the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference yesterday, Washington Post Co. chair Don Graham held up the current issue of Newsweek titled "Voices of the Fallen" featuring the words of troops killed in Iraq — their letters, journals and emails sent to wives, sons, daughters, siblings, parents, sweethearts, friends. Said Graham: "I'm holding what I think might be the best issue of Newsweek in the 75 years of the magazine." Four years into the Iraq war, with more American dead now than perished on September 11th and no end to the violence in sight, with "Support our Troops" bumper stickers across the country and new presidential candidates debating how and when to get the hell out, the issue is timely and urgent, the stories every bit as heartbreaking, and even more so in multiple, increasing daily.
So where's the pickup? Technorati shows 76 links to the story — barely a blip, especially after almost a week in. Meanwhile, the blogs that did pick it up are hardly big shakers — this one has one inbound link, as does this one, by a woman whose nephew had a poem in the issue. He was killed in Iraq this past summer. This one's got nine, this one's got 25. There's no Little Green Footballs, no Instapundit, no Atrios, no Malkin, no Daily Kos, no ThinkProgress, no Crooks & Liars, no Captain's Quarters, no Power Line, and, yes, no Huffington Post (though the package hit #1 on MSNBC.com, which meant it showed up on ETP via the "Top Stories" widget to the left). All of these blogs have spent plenty of bandwidth arguing for and against the Iraq war, debating what the best move is for the country and for the troops. Bring them home, say some. Honor them and their mission, say others. They don't agree on much, but they do agree that the men and women serving in Iraq are important, and heroic, and should be respected and appreciated. Yet, they gave this issue a miss.
Is it Iraq fatigue? Is it the absence of a political slant either way? (Noted by a family member in editor Jon Meachem's editor's letter as well as on a few blogs). Is it just that it's too real, too heartbreaking? (I defy anyone to get through this issue — hell, through the introduction — without choking up. But if you think you're tough you can skip straight through to the collection of "If You're Reading This" letters written by soldiers to be sent in the event of death which, needless to say, were mailed. For an extra dose of reality, Newsweek.com includes PDFs of the actual letter so you can read it in the soldier's own handwriting; above is a screenshot of the first page of the letter from Pfc. Jesse A. Givens. The handwriting on the cover is that of Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Travis L. Youngblood, who died on July 21, 2005, at age 26.
The amount of work that would have had to have gone into an issue like this is significant, with the extra time required to do justice to the material, and to work with surviving family members, also adding to it (there is no calling for a quick quote here). The West Hartford blog calls it "a gift from Newsweek to America...it leaves an unmistakable impression that we've lost far too much." (Never mind that this issue is just about those who have died — still thousands more live, with horrible injuries and, we now know, horrible care.) Newsweek deserves praise for putting this together, and we're glad we were on hand to have Don Graham draw it to our attention. Perhaps eventually the blogosphere will catch on.