In 1985, newspapers and television barraged us with stories of global terrorism. Associated Press editors cited Mideast terrorism as 1985’s top news story. UPI editors named the hijacking of TWA Flight 847 and the Italian cruise-ship, the Achille Lauro, among the top five “headline” stories of 1985. Editors of Encyclopedia Britannica’s Book of the Year and other associated yearbooks picked international terrorism as the second biggest news story of 1985. Terrorism was a big story; and by the time 1985 ended, 22 Americans were killed by terrorists.
However, during that same period of time, 60 American sailors, soldiers, and marines lost their lives in defective helicopters … and this tragedy was not listed among any of the twenty biggest news stories of 1985, as reported by Editor & Publisher.
Bill Nigut, Sr., editor of The Chicago Media Critic, asked Dan Rather, and others, why the victims of the helicopter crashes died virtually unnoticed and unmourned by the press while the media, especially television, hyped coverage of the terrorist attacks and lionized the terrorists’ victims.
Marjorie W. Holyoak, Director, Audience Services, CBS Broadcast Group, responded explaining that “coverage decisions are based solely upon newsworthiness.” She added “Contrary to your (Nigut’s) impression, our broadcasts have consistently reported on incidents involving military helicopters during the past few years.” She cited one example from the April 17, 1984, edition of the CBS Evening News.
Nigut said “We’re sorry that Miss Holyoak didn’t, or couldn’t, cite a CBS Evening News report about any of the 12 helicopter accidents, in which 78 U.S. servicemen died, after the April 17, 1984, report. These accidents occurred between 6/15/84 and 11/17/85.”
One reason for the lack of coverage may be traced to a little-known provision in the defense-authorization bill approved by the Senate in 1983 which “would allow the government to keep secret virtually all information collected in its safety investigations of military aircraft accidents.” A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee told Jack landau, executive director of the Reporters’ Committee for the Freedom of the Press, the purpose of the provision was to protect aircraft manufacturers, who would not level with government investigators about the companies’ faulty products “unless promised confidentiality.”
The media should demand that the Pentagon and its military contractors be held publicly accountable for the deaths of hundreds of U.S. servicemen in defective helicopters. like The Chicago Media Critic, we believe that their deaths are newsworthy.
THE CHICAGO MEDIA CRITIC, January, 1986, pp 1, 6-7; EDITOR A PUBLISHER, 1/4/86, “The Top 10 news stories of 1985, p 18.”