Heard everything you ever wanted to know about the life-and-death court battle over Terri Schiavo? For weeks, the story dominated the newspapers, radio talk shows and 24-hour news channels.
Even Laura Bush managed to bring it up during her trip last week to Afghanistan -- a country her husband has yet to visit. What she failed to mention is that four U.S. National Guardsmen had just been killed in Kabul on the deadliest day for American forces in Afghanistan in almost a year. Nothing was reported in any of Vermont's daily newspapers, on Vermont Public Radio or on local TV news stations.
The story didn't fare much better in the national media. A search of the LexisNexis database of broadcast and television news transcripts that week found just seven references to the soldiers' deaths in Afghanistan: two on ABC, two on NBC and three on CNN. The lengths of the stories averaged 32 words -- or about 15 seconds of airtime. In contrast, during the same search period, 159 programs featured stories or in-depth analyses of the Schiavo case.
The four U.S. soldiers were all members of the 76th Infantry Brigade of the Indiana National Guard based in Indianapolis. According to a U.S. Defense Department press release, all four were killed on March 26 when their vehicle struck a landmine in Kabul. Indiana's Adjutant General Martin Umbarger called it the largest one-day loss of life for the Indiana National Guard since World War II.
The United States now has about 17,000 soldiers stationed in Afghanistan, including 5551 members of the Army National Guard. No members of the Vermont National Guard are currently deployed in Afghanistan, though about 40 are scheduled to arrive there by early summer. As of March 30, 122 American soldiers had been killed in or around Afghanistan, including 19 National Guardsmen.