An important story of the war in the Persian Gulf - the muzzling of the American media - is ignored by the media themselves, leaving Americans ignorant of some of the awful costs of the war now waged in their name.

The threatening result of an American media knuckling under to unprecedented governmental restraints on war coverage is an American public turned deaf, blind, unknowing and even indifferent to the war's daily toll.The violators are not only officials who lie by omission and fabrication and insist the lies are necessary for "security." The violators of the public trust are also media executives who - so far - have allowed the Bush administration to get away with it.

Reporters are routinely denied access to firsthand information, herded about and escorted everywhere, even in non-combat zones, by military aides. They are confined to "pool" reports, and that product is strained through military censors who delay and edit material to fit standards imposed by the Pentagon and the Bush White House.

The media's response has been patty-cake complaints, brief notices of censorship dropped onto inside newspaper pages or simple oh-by-the-way broadcast acknowledgements of the censor's work.

It is within the power of the American media to push against the censorship and restraint, to carry daily accounts of unreasonable censorship as war policy and to remind Americans of vast areas of information unavailable to them.

Americans are informed, often with startling pictures, of our bombing accuracy, of "smart" bombs hitting military targets with devastating and successful results. There are no reports, no pictures from briefing officers on bombs that haven't hit their targets, even denials that "smart" bombs have mistakenly hit civilian targets.

Of other bombing, the continuing official word is that B-52 bombers keep hitting "Iraq's elite Republican Guard forces." The Bush administration spokesmen know that, know it precisely. They refuse to say more, even lying that they know absolutely nothing of other B-52 damage.

Of the dead, notice has already been given that when and if dead Americans in significant numbers are shipped to the military morgue at Dover, Del., no media coverage will be permitted.

The plain warning is that reporters and photographers who seek to break the restrictions will be unpatriotic, destroying morale and serving the enemy. It's a lie, but the media haven't challenged it.

The official stonewall to discussion of civilian bomb damage and the blackout promised on return of military casualties are outgrowths of the Bush Persian Gulf war policy to screen Americans away from the war's human costs.

The fact these and many other official lies and uses of government censorship are not seriously protested is also warning that the media, this time around in this war, will let the government do it, an unprecedented abdication of media rights and responsibilities.

It's useful to recall a brief report from World War II, Ernie Pyle's account of the recovery of the body of a young American officer from an Italian battlefield, the grief of his men and the duty that bound all of them together.

It was and will remain one of the most powerful accounts ever written of war and war's cost. It will be read 100 years from now, 500 years from now.

And it's inconceivable that Pyle's report of Captain Waskow's death could be written and published in the American media atmosphere enveloping coverage of the Persian Gulf war.