Days Late And Dollars Short

With Time magazine already having bestowed its "Person of The Year" award upon "you," the nation's editors and news directors are weighing in with their pick for the top news story of 2006. Hold on to your hats folks, the winner is … the war in Iraq! Yes, that increasingly unpopular conflict received a whopping 176 first-place votes out of 242 ballots cast by Associated Press members, according to Editor & Publisher. Now, it certainly seems like a no-brainer to deem the war the single most important story of the year, just like it was no real stretch for Time to recognize the explosion of individual participation in today's media. Actually, that's just the point – by the time the press gets around to covering something, it's pretty much old news.

That's a logical reality when it comes to mass media and trends. Whether it's pet rocks, break-dancing or grunge, trends have pretty much outlived themselves by the time they hit a mass audience. And when it comes to cultural and consumer issues like the iPod explosion, that's just fine. But you have to wonder if the media can't be a little more proactive on things like, let's say, war. Here's how that first-place finished is characterized:

What started in 2003 as a supposedly straightforward drive to topple Saddam Hussein deteriorated during 2006 into a dismayingly complex and savage struggle, with Iraqis by the thousands killed in sectarian reprisal attacks and the U.S. military death toll nearing 3,000. President Bush dropped talk of "staying the course" but balked at embracing many of the key suggestions of a bipartisan study group; Iraqi authorities struggled to assert control and avoid fracture.
Deteriorated during 2006? The situation might be especially bad right now but, let's face it, 2005 wasn't much of a cakewalk either. Neither was 2004 for that matter. Of course, that was the year our media seemed much more interested in trying to figure out if President Bush received special treatment to avoid serving in the military and looking into just how John Kerry got those Purple Heart medals.

Maybe if these editors and the rest of us had focused more on what was happening in Iraq between 2003 and 2005, we'd have a different top story for 2006. Just a thought.