Sure, "First Human Clone" and "Lott Heads KKK" get max ink. That's what sells papers, pumps ratings and keeps the conglomerate cash registers ringing.
But doesn't our media have a moral responsibility to inform the public about potentially serious disasters just a sand dune away?
Except for last month's all-too-brief CNN report, followed by an equally brief Associated Press release, apparently not.
We're only weeks away from sending our troops into the poisonous caldron of Desert Storm II, where casualties could be as catastrophic as the last time our soldiers stood tall in that unforgiving desert and suffered at least 160,000 disabled and dying WIA (Wounded in Action) and 10,000 KIABGN (Killed in Action by Government Neglect).
But the injuries were for the most part self-inflicted, caused by U.S. military incompetence rather than the sort of horror-filled missiles and shells our soldiers might well run into this time around if and when we find Saddam's doomsday weapons the hard way.
Concerned members of outfits such as Soldiers for the Truth (www.sftt.org) and the National Gulf War Resource Center Inc. (www.ngwrc.org) have done everything but torch themselves into crispy critters to get this story front and center.
SFTT's Robert McMahon has contacted almost every major news outlet in America, pleading for coverage. "Maybe some parents and spouses would like to know that Iraq's Republican Guard won't be the most insidious enemy their loved ones will be facing," he wrote.
The "insidious enemy" McMahon refers to is in part the Iraqi battlefield itself, a death pit of spent radiation and bio/chem weaponry served up with a lethal cocktail of local bugs, deadly fumes and poisons that still haven't been fully identified after a decade of medical research. And then there's the enemy within, the far-from-adequate bio/chem protection and detection gear earmarked for our grunts.
According to a Pentagon report, about 130,000 troops who were downwind when U.S. Army engineers destroyed a weapons depot were exposed to low levels of sarin. Now epidemiologist Dr. Robert Haley has published a footlocker full of studies suggesting there might actually be 200,000 Gulf War vets with illnesses linked to brain damage resulting from exposure to sarin-like toxins. And many vets and scientists believe other sarin exposures occurred in January 1991 when allied bombs destroyed Iraqi ammo dumps.
A recent U.S. General Accounting Office report states "serious problems still persist" regarding the protective masks, suits and detection gear. And a December 2002 Army report states that more than half of its protective masks and nearly all of its chemical-weapons alarms are either "completely broken or not fully operational."
A Pentagon spokeswoman has counterattacked, insisting "the Pentagon has substantially improved individual protective garments, gas masks and chemical detectors since the Gulf War."
But a line sergeant I'd trust with my life says, "The only improvement I've seen since the Gulf War is now that we have the M-40 Protective Mask instead of the M-17A1, we can change our filters without committing suicide."
Why won't the media or Congress touch this story when we could be only weeks away from destroying the lives of another generation of American heroes? Is it the prevailing attitude that war is a nasty business, but our all-volunteer force signed up for it? Or is it just that no one who could make a difference cares about blue-collar bio/chem fodder mainly from metropolitan slums or small-town America?
Maybe the media are displaying such a total lack of interest in whether our GI Joes and Janes will make it through Saddam's nightmare simply because most haven't served and can't identify with a fighting force made up of kids who come from poor families with nada political pull in an America that's fast becoming too much like England circa 1600, a land of serfs and the privileged who sit above the salt. Kids who are primarily from the wrong side of the railroad tracks where the used pickup trucks are parked, who didn't go to Yale, Stanford or the other elite schools in between. The same kids who've filled body bags and been screwed over by Veterans Affairs since the Greatest Generation members were given their due during and after World War II.
And nothing's going to change until the draft calls up each and every one of America's boys and girls to defend Old Glory.
Hackworth, a retired U.S. Army colonel and author of the book "Steel My Soldiers' Hearts," writes for King Features Syndicate. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.