Student Newspaper Drops Rising Death Toll from Front Page

The new blog is happening- aiming for a post-Labor-Day debut.  In the meantime, a death toll is missing.  In a recent staff editorial, eds. at The Daily Toreador, the student newspaper at Texas Tech, announced that the paper will no longer publish a tally of soldiers killed in fighting in Iraq on its front page. The feature has run on page one amid controversy in all Toreador issues since fall 2005.

In a comment to the editorial online, a former Toreador managing editor explained: “When we first created it, we thought it would be a constant presence to remind students of the toll of war. The beauty of the toll was that its number never lied. There was no spin or bias behind those four digits. The numbers told the story, and readers were left to interpret their meaning.”

At the time, depending on the reader, the tally’s prominent placement in the paper was interpreted, ironically, as either pro-military spin or anti-Bush bias. Presently, with editors attributing its removal to President Obama’s Iraqi withdrawal pledge, the latter criticism is cropping up as most common in online comments.

According to the editorial: “The decision to remove it came after President Barack Obama pledged to withdraw troops from Iraq by 2011 and focus attention to Afghanistan. . . . At a time when the United States is engaged in multiple foreign conflicts, the editorial board feels it [the death toll] no longer serves readers as it once did.”

One commenter’s comeback: “You mean to say the United States is engaged in so much war and loss that it serves no purpose to track war and loss? . . . You’re taking down the death toll at a time when you should be expanding it to include such an important escalating theater where Obama is sending more troops: Afghanistan.  Or include contractor deaths (which everyone forgets).  Or coalition troops.  Most [of] the deaths occurring in Afghanistan are college-aged men and women, yet you guys feel it’s not topical or relevant or serves any purpose to college-aged readers?”

My take: The Toreador team is truly in a tough spot, one they must expect, respect, and build upon journalistically.  If running the death toll in the first place four years ago caused such a brouhaha (even a Student Government resolution attempting to remove it!), current staff must have realized that dropping it was also not going to slip past the dogs of war.  So embrace the controversy!  Run competing editorials.  Publish a story about eds. at professional papers who have run or still run similar features.  Spotlight a Q&A with military experts about the difficulty of keeping a concrete death count in an era of modern warfare in which the fighting locations and starting and end dates are constantly subject to change (“Mission Accomplished” banners aside). The tally may now be gone, but the conversation about its meaning does not have to end.

2 Responses to “Student Newspaper Drops Rising Death Toll from Front Page”
  1. Bryan Murley says:

    How sad that the editors feel that they are serving some kind of purpose by removing this number from the front page. Too many Americans have bled and died and yet there is little acknowledgment in the media or the public unless a local boy is killed.

    And why don’t they publish the death toll from Afghanistan, anyway? That was the war which had as its proximal cause the attack of Sept. 11.

    I don’t find any justification for taking the death toll off the front page. None whatsoever.

    Regardless of your political persuasion, these are men and women who give the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Rather than take the death toll off the front page, more papers should put it on the front page.

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  1. […] September 4, 2009 in Campus Press, Campus Protests, Peace, Politics Since the fall of 2005 the Texas Tech Daily Toreador has been running the number of US war dead in Iraq on its front page every issue. With the start of the fall semester, though, they’re dropping the feature. […]