A controversial news program that broadcast Friday night the names of every soldier killed in Iraq was a fitting tribute to the hundreds of soldiers who have died overseas, said the mother of a Utah soldier who died in Iraq.
On ABC's "Nightline," aired locally on KTVX-Channel 4, Ted Koppel spent the entire broadcast reading nearly 700 names of soldiers who died in both combat and non-combat situations.
"They can't be forgotten," said Dolly Goldberg of Layton. Her son, David Goldberg, 20, was killed Nov. 26, 2003, from a gunshot wound to the upper right chest. "I really think it's very patriotic. I don't see anything wrong with airing the names and trying to remember . . . those that died."
Critics say that in reading the names, ABC pushed an anti-war agenda and threatened to undermine U.S. efforts in Iraq a claim the network denies.
One broadcast group refused to air "Nightline," and instead ran a debate about the controversial reading on its eight ABC affiliates, located mostly in the Eastern and Central Time Zones. Sinclair Broadcast Group, which owns 62 television stations in 29 markets, said that political statements should not be disguised by news content.
In a statement, Sinclair Broadcast Group officials said the ABC telecast "appears to be motivated by a political agenda designed to undermine the efforts of the United States in Iraq. . . . Mr. Koppel and 'Nightline' are hiding behind this so-called tribute in an effort to highlight only one aspect of the war effort and in doing so to influence public opinion against the military action in Iraq."
Sinclair, whose stations reach nearly a quarter of the nation's viewers, has been criticized for its "pro-war" stance on Iraq. Earlier this year it sent a report to the country to report "good news" that it maintained was being ignored by other media outlets.
ABC contends the broadcast was an "expression of respect which simply seeks to honor those who have laid down their lives for this country."
"People can take it either way," said Goldberg, who watched the broadcast in order to pay tribute to her son and the hundreds of others who have died in Iraq. "It's something that they did, and we are going to continue to be proud for the sacrifice they made. I don't see why people should be against it."
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., blasted Sinclair President David Smith for refusing to air "Nightline." In a letter to Smith, McCain called the decision "a gross disservice to the public and to the men and women of the United States Armed Forces. It is, in short, sir, unpatriotic."
Utah's local ABC affiliate aired "Nightline" Friday night as scheduled. Karen Zabriskie, program director at KTVX, said, "Quite frankly, under the terms of our affiliation agreement with ABC, we can't do a lot (to pre-empt) 'Nightline' anyway."
Command Sgt. Maj. Jim Slade of the Utah National Guard said Friday afternoon he wasn't sure if the broadcast would be a tribute or a political statement.
"Any time the soldiers get recognition for what they do, I think that's great. The country should know that," Slade said. "But if they are using it to say, 'All of these boys have been killed and shame shame on the president,' then I think no, that they shouldn't. It's kind of how it's handled."
Goldberg said it didn't matter if ABC twisted the broadcast to be anti-Bush, she just wanted to remember her son's sacrifice.
"It's not bad if you look at it as a tribute to our guys," Goldberg said. "I'm not against the war at all, although I lost my son there. In order to have life, you have to have death. You have to give things up to be able to get. Our freedom is at stake."
"Nightline" isn't the first media outlet to show the public the death toll in Iraq. On "The News Hour with Jim LehrerLeher," a national news broadcast on PBS, Lehrer Leher asks for a moment of silence at the end of each broadcast and reads the names of any soldier soldiers who may have died that day.
ABC News officials have protested a military ban on releasing pictures of soldiers' coffins. In April, the Defense Department said it mistakenly released 361 photos of flag-draped caskets of soldiers killed in Iraq. The mistake violated a 1991 ban that was to protect the privacy of military families.
Paul Levinson, chairman of the Department of Communications and Media Studies at Fordham University, said it is the appropriate time that television stepped up and showed the American public the people who have sacrificed their lives for this country."It is not anti-war propaganda, and stations that chose not to broadcast ("'Nightline'") are dishonoring the sacrifice these people have made, Levinson said.
Contributing: Scott Pierce