June 6, 1944 was known as the longest day. The past few months should be known as the longest countdown, since war with Iraq continues not to happen.
The delays are not all good. For one thing, the stock market has tumbled, as uncertainty about military action, and the high price of its aftermath, has cost millions of investors billions of dollars.
But the delays are not all bad. For another thing, more journalists have had more time and more space to analyze the pros and cons of war than ever before. The result, it seems to me, is a populace as well informed as it could be about the consequences of a possible war.
Tom Friedman of The New York Times has written brilliantly about Iraq, especially in consecutive columns that took different sides of the issue and explored them in detail.
The Times itself published one of its longest editorials ever a few weeks ago, analyzing the wages of war in a remarkably even-handed manner.
All-news cable programs, having been forced through the delays to keep the subject of war alive even when there does not seem to be much to say, have in many cases found plenty to say, exploring matters related to a military invasion that might be peripheral but are nonetheless worth taking into account. Into this category go such widely disparate topics as the changing nature of the relationships among President Bush’s advisers, and the logistics of providing supplies of food and clothing to the Iraqis when the fighting has ceased.
Talk shows on the all-news networks have likewise been forced to expand their reach and provide an enormous range of opinion. Unfortunately, they have also provided an enormous range of opinion-givers; if I hear one more exposition of the nuances of foreign policy by Janeane Garofolo, I will turn my set to the Cartoon Channel and leave there until a cease-fire.
Another result of all the coverage of the war that has not yet happened is that individual newscasts on the broadcast networks are showing a greater diversity of viewpoint.
When Colin Powell spoke to the United Nations Security Council a few weeks ago, NBC Nightly News did a fourteen-minute first segment almost uniformly favorable to the address. The closest that the program came to a dissenting voice was a sound bite from Senator Diane Feinstein, Democrat of California, who expressed her support for Powell in a somewhat guarded fashion.
The hawks must have been thrilled.
But several days later, when the weekend edition of Nightly covered the various anti-war protests in this country and abroad, virtually all of the voices all dissented.
The doves must have been thrilled.
Even those topics that the media do not seem to be covering enough to provide answers are at least being covered enough to raise questions. I would like to see more stories about Pentagon projections of loss of life in the event of war with Iraq. I would like to see more stories about government projections for the costs of rebuilding the nation and its government when war ends. But enough journalists have raised concerns about these subjects —- perhaps most notably members of the panel on Fox News Watch —- that many Americans have made it a point to seek out information for themselves.
As long as war stays on the front burner of governmental priorities, but off the battlefield, the media will continue their reporting and the American public, if they make the effort, will be every bit as informed as citizens of a democracy ought to be about a matter of such importance.
Eric Burns is the host of Fox News Watch which airs Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. ET/3:30 p.m. PT and Sundays at 1:30 a.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT, 6:30 a.m. ET/3:30 a.m. PT, and 11 p.. ET/8 p.m. PT .