War stirs feelings on holiday stories

November 20, 2005|By PAUL MOORE

The Sun's recent coverage of Veterans Day events brought especially pointed responses from readers.

Many people reacted to the stories and photographs within the context of the continuing war in Iraq and the continuing questions about the Bush administration's justifications for invasion.

The Sun's coverage of an early Veterans Day event - the Nov. 5 commemoration aboard the oldest remaining Liberty ship, the SS John W. Brown - was praised by readers.

But on the actual day of memorial, Nov. 11, some were unhappy with The Sun's efforts.

"Those of us at the our VFW post are very upset that there's nothing in the newspaper today," said Joseph Bryzinski. "At a time when men and women are serving their country in Iraq, it is terrible that you have forgotten Veterans Day." (The Sun in fact published a front-page photo and caption about the rededication of War Memorial Plaza, which referred to an inside article on Veterans Day events.)

The Nov. 12 front page featured a striking lead photograph of an honor guard at the Maryland Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Baltimore and a lead news article, "Bush Hits Back at War Critics." Written by Sun reporter Julie Hirschfeld Davis, this story about the president's speech and the subsequent political reaction generated a number of responses.

"It's deplorable that the president is using Veterans Day in an attempt to deflect legitimate questions about whether he lied about intelligence so he could start the war in Iraq," said Pamela R. "I know it is a `news' story, but I wonder if The Sun gave it too much weight."

Reader Al Straub thought the article deserved its lead position but was troubled by this paragraph: "Bush used the address to give an unusually detailed explanation and justification of his policy for fighting terrorism, peppered with characteristically fiery flourishes designed to stoke the patriotism of a sympathetic audience."

"This seems to me to be the opinion of the reporter and not the facts," Straub said. "It makes the newspaper seem slanted."

Mr. Straub's concern is legitimate.

National editor Marcia Myers said: "In describing President Bush's speech, it is part of our job to provide context for readers as well as facts and reasonable interpretation. I believe Julie did a very good job of balancing those in the description of the event. The president clearly invoked patriotic themes when he spoke of the `defense of freedom' and the importance of a united nation, and it was fair to characterize them as such," Myers said.

On Sunday, Nov. 13, The Sun published a front-page centerpiece, "Iraq's impact on Maryland: Torn apart by war."

Reporter Greg Barrett's article, with photos by Christopher T. Assaf, described how four mothers of Maryland soldiers killed in Iraq were dealing with their grief. The package was timed for Veterans Day weekend, the one-year anniversary of these soldiers' deaths.

Reader John Oliver said: "Thank you for your excellent article in today's Sun. As you related the stories of four mothers of slain soldiers, I am reminded that anyone connected with a war is wounded in some way, some more severely than others. The ways in which we grieve and express our pain will vary, but all ways need to be respected and understood as much as possible."

Tracy Miller, the mother of Nicholas Lee Ziolkowski, one of the soldiers killed, said: "I thought it was very good, as did the many people who have been phoning me ... As long as people are interested, it will keep Nick and his comrades alive - kind of."

Others, such as Mr. Straub, thought that the article was overplayed and that it represented an anti-war sentiment.

"I feel for all the families who have lost loved ones in Iraq, but many others have expressed a more positive attitude about the sacrifices they made," Straub said.

Reader Oscar M. Freeman questioned why the story did not include an African-American mother. "It comes across that only stories about white soldiers matter. The same situation is happening countless times for mothers of blacks and other people of color. They should have been represented."

The article was designed to examine the lives and perspectives of these mothers one year after their sons were killed; it just happened that three mothers were white and one was Asian.

"We certainly would have had a more diverse selection of soldiers and mothers if we hadn't been restricted to that Nov. 11-14 time period," said state editor Diane Fancher, who edited the story.

In my view, the one-year anniversary concept was reasonable. Mr. Freeman's objections are understandable if one does not take this time frame into account. Given the parameters of this article, and after reviewing The Sun's coverage of other families of soldiers killed in Iraq, I find no evidence that race has ever been a factor in the newpaper's reporting on this issue.

The Sun's Veterans Day coverage was supposed to report on how people celebrated all the soldiers who have survived and how people memorialized all the soldiers who did not.

I think it succeeded.

Paul Moore's column appears Sundays.

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