The most intensive war coverage in television history can be a little much at times.

It pounds away at the brain, degrades our defenses, and leaves us in shock, if not awe.

Wave after wave of Baghdad explosions, reports from the trenches, civilian casualties, briefings, second-guessing, tanks, aircraft carriers, helicopters, maps, graphics, ex-generals war-gaming and heartbreak on the homefront leaves us a little zoned out.

Does anyone else feel the need to just pull the plug after awhile?

In a Pew Research Center poll, 42 percent agree or strongly agree that watching the war on TV tires them out, and 58 percent find the coverage frightening to watch.

It's ironic: For 30 years now, journalists have complained rather loudly that they want access to the battlefield, rather than being shut out a la Grenada, Panama and Afghanistan. Now they have it -- in spades -- and we're all drowning in information.

Making sense of the daily blur has been difficult indeed. Sometimes it seems the war is going well, sometimes it's hell-in-a-handbasket time. It's hard not to admire the fighting young Americans who are seen so up close and personal on the screen, but it's agonizing when soldiers, fearing a suicide attack, kill women and children in a van. War has always had its collateral damage, but in a satellite age, we feel so close to it.

Here's an interesting column by Seattle Times Editor Mike Fancher: http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/134665285_fancher30.html

"At some point last week I turned off the television and stopped watching the war with Iraq in real time. It wasn't easy and I felt guilty doing it. Combatants are fighting and dying, some of them on my behalf. Innocents are dying. Journalists are dying. The outcome is unknown. How could I look away?

"The answer is that television's relentless sense of urgency was working a hardship on me without giving me much knowledge or understanding in return. Channel surfing to see the latest was doing me more harm than good.

"This isn't a knock on the hard work and dedication of the television journalists covering the war, especially the bravery of those on the battlefield. It's about the medium they serve. Television's need to fill every second of every minute of every hour was more than I could take and the progress of this war could offer."

If journalists are crying uncle, there must be some serious sensory overload.

The problem is that in this instant gratification era, we all want to know the outcome, or at least the plot line. And that's just not knowable right now. The war is, for the moment, a series of disconnected battles and strategies that even the presence of 600 embedded reporters cannot fashion into a coherent narrative. That will come, in time, but television cannot wait. Its 24-hour hunger must be fed, even when confusion reigns.

Speaking of the media, Richard Myers, the Joint Chiefs chairman, really went off on the "bogus" stories questioning the war plan yesterday. "It is not helpful to have those kind of comments come out when we've got troops in combat, because first of all, they're false, they're absolutely wrong, they bear no resemblance to the truth, and it's just -- it's just harmful to our troops that are out there fighting very bravely, very courageously."

Then he ripped the TV generals: "I think for some retired military to opine as aggressively as some have done is not helpful. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. And, you know, to criticize something that they've never seen is pretty audacious, isn't it?"

We understand the general's frustration. But people get to criticize the Pentagon in a democracy, even in wartime. That's one of the values we're fighting for.

Maybe now that U.S. forces have rescued a POW and broken through a Republican Guard unit south of Baghdad, the tone of those news conferences will turn more positive.

A similar blast in South Carolina's State newspaper: http://www.thestate.com/mld/thestate/news/local/5529926.htm

"Republican U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham on Monday accused retired military generals of giving aid and comfort to the enemy with their reporting of the Iraqi war on national television.

"'Literally, you don't need an intelligence service if you're the Iraq government. All you need is a TV and a satellite. You can pick up on CNN, Fox or any other network some general telling you where our troops are, when they're going to move and how they're going to get there,' Graham said during a Columbia news conference. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"'South Carolinians are asking me how can a news network broadcast the battle plan, telling the enemy exactly about every troop movement and when they have a problem. I think the First Amendment is being abused here. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}. I find it totally inappropriate.'"

No offense, senator, but not one military analyst has given away anything confidential. You must be confusing them with Geraldo.

Roger Simon http://www.rogersimon.com/archive/000306.html#000306 opines on the nonstop coverage:

"They don't call it the fog of war for nothing.

"That fog usually exists because we get so little information from the battlefield during a war.

"This time, however, the fog exists because we are getting so much conflicting information.

"The U.S. invasion plan for Iraq is either on schedule or bogged down.

"Our military planners either correctly estimated Iraqi military resistance or seriously underestimated it.

"We either overestimated the desire of ordinary Iraqis to free themselves from Saddam Hussein or we were properly realistic.

"We never really believed that the air attacks on Baghdad would topple Saddam's regime or that is exactly what we believed.

"The refusal of Turkey to allow U.S. ground troops to base on and attack Iraq from Turkish soil was either a serious blow to our military plans or inconsequential. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Make no mistake, we will win this war. But the cost, in both dollars and lives, may be far higher than we estimated in those crystal clear days before the war began and the fog descended."

The Boston Globe http://www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/092/living/Double_vision+.shtml wonders if this is real or entertainment:

"The reality aesthetic in TV news becomes even more explicit when CNN's Anderson Cooper and CBS's Julie Chen report on Iraq; both have done time as reality-show hosts. Their faces are identified with the harmless shenanigans of 'The Mole' and 'Big Brother,' respectively, even when they're talking about the location of American troops.

"The war featurettes are getting smarmier and more melodramatic by the day, particularly now that there are American casualties whose families can be the 'gets' of the week. Yesterday morning, a CBS correspondent asked a marine widow if her late husband was a good father, but she might as well have been on bended knee begging for a Barbara Walters moment. She quickly got what she wanted, as tears began to flow. These spots are like those 'very special episodes' on prime time that the networks used to concoct during sweeps. Under the guise of humanizing the war, they play out like contrived efforts to reel in viewers."

The New York Times http://www.nytimes.com/2003/04/02/international/worldspecial/02CAPI.html has this report on the Myers eruption:

"In perhaps the most dramatic Pentagon news conference in 17 months of briefings on terrorism and war, General Myers rapped on the lectern with a clenched fist and angrily mocked criticism from retired generals and others analyzing the war on television as 'great sport here inside the Beltway.'

"But he reserved his harshest judgments for members of the uniformed officer corps -- whether on the battlefield in Iraq, at forward headquarters throughout the region or back home at the Pentagon -- whose dissent he said seriously undermined the war effort. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"General Myers also reprimanded members of the news media for analyzing, criticizing and reporting anonymous dissent on a secret war plan they had never seen, although Mr. Rumsfeld cut him off with a playful reminder about constitutional protections and a free press."

Oh right -- that.

The Los Angeles Times http://www.latimes.com/la-war-military2apr02,1,2399266.story?coll=la%2Dhome%2Dheadlines sees a shrinking margin for error:

"The war in Iraq has entered a difficult phase in which protecting coalition forces without killing or wounding large numbers of civilians is growing harder by the day.

"During the opening phases of the war, many U.S. combat troops moved north through open desert or bypassed major cities and towns. With plenty of space and time, troops on the line were spared the need to make instant judgments between life and death.

"But as elements of the 3rd Infantry Division and the 1st Marine Division advanced deeper into the more densely populated areas south of Baghdad on Tuesday, they were finding it increasingly troublesome to hold civilians at arm's length."

USA Today http://www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2003-04-01-bush-cover_x.htm depicts a president under strain:

"The public face of President Bush at war is composed and controlled. On TV and in newspaper photos, he is sturdy and assured, usually surrounded by military personnel. But those choreographed glimpses of Bush's commander-in-chief persona don't tell the whole story. Behind the scenes, aides and friends say, the president's role is more complicated and his style more emotional.

"People who know Bush well say the strain of war is palpable. He rarely jokes with staffers these days and occasionally startles them with sarcastic putdowns. He's being hard on himself; he gave up sweets just before the war began. He's frustrated when armchair generals or members of his own team express doubts about U.S. military strategy. At the same time, some of his usual supporters are concerned by his insistence on sticking with the original war plan. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"He's a prosecutor who quizzes military officials about their backup plans when things go awry on the battlefield. He's a critic who sees himself as the aggrieved victim of the news media and second-guessers. He's a cheerleader who encourages others not to lose faith in the war plan."

Andrew Sullivan http://www.andrewsullivan.com has a different twist on the pre-war expectations game:

"What if [Vice President] Cheney had gone on television and said: 'Look, this is going to take months. Saddam's hardcore is highly trained, ruthless and will fight to the death.' Wouldn't that have largely removed the chance -- even if it were an outside one -- of psyching out the Ba'ath leadership and possibly cracking the Saddamite machine at the outset?

"Part of what the administration was trying to achieve, it seems to me, was a psychological coup against the Baghdad leadership. If they could out-psyche the Ba'athists, convince them they were doomed, we'd have had much higher chances of winning this quickly and well. The problem, of course, was that the message designed for Saddam was also one heard by the domestic audience, and so was a set-up for disappointment."

David Frum http://nationalreview.com/frum/frum-diary.asp says critics are moving the goalposts:

"Bravo to NBC for sacking Peter Arnett. One footnote to this controversy: In his paean to Iraq's 'resistance' and 'determination,' Arnett made a claim that you often hear even from uncompromised reporters -- that the U.S. forces had been forced to change their plans. I have no idea whether this claim is true. Personally I doubt it. But even if it were true -- so what?

"There are doomsters and defeatists out there who keep insisting that the U.S. and its allies can only claim victory if they meet an ever-lengthening list of conditions:

"'The allies win ONLY IF they (1) overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime and (2) find Iraq's weapons of mass destruction and (3) do so with minimal casualties and (4) also with minimal Iraqi casualties while (5) being hailed and welcomed by the Iraqi population and (6) without upsetting Arab public opinion too much also (7) without irritating the European allies too much and now (8) without any alterations of their original plan.' In other words, allied success can be discounted if along the way the allies make any adjustment of their plans to circumstances.

"If we accepted this remarkable principle, we would have to conclude that though the Allies appear to have defeated Germany and Japan reasonably decisively, they actually lost World War II on points."

The Wall Street Journal http://www.opinionjournal.com/editorial/feature.html?id=110003279 editorial page doesn't like all the Rummy-bashing:

"An unbending rule of Washington life is that the one thing critics can never forgive you for is being right. This is worth keeping in mind amid the obloquy now being heaped on Donald Rumsfeld.

"Judging by all of the blind-quote vituperation the Secretary of Defense is receiving, a casual reader might be surprised to learn that we haven't yet lost the Iraq war. U.S. troops are within 50 miles of Baghdad, probing Republican Guard lines that are being shredded from the air. The surrounded enemy has suicide bombers, guerrilla harassment and Peter Arnett left as an offensive strategy. We can hit the enemy, he can't much hit us.

"Yet Mr. Rumsfeld is being assailed for having given the 'bum advice' to President Bush that has brought our troops this far this fast. The main substantive accusation seems to be that Mr. Rumsfeld forced the military chiefs to come up with a war plan that did more than repeat the 500,000-man deployment and strategy of the Gulf War. This has offended some of the armchair generals who are claiming through the fog of television that we should have had more troops on the ground.

"These are of course the same generals fond of saying that no battle plan ever survives its first meeting with the enemy. Perhaps they've forgotten how complicated it is to move an artillery battery in battle or to fly an Apache helicopter at night, let alone move a division 300 miles in four days. Confusion and mistakes are the norm in war. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Thus the piling on Mr. Rumsfeld now in the hope of dividing the President from his Defense chief. Yesterday's Washington Post article quoting highly critical 'former senior Republican government officials and party leaders,' though none by name, was especially cowardly."

Of course, getting critics to go on the record isn't easy in wartime.

Slate's http://slate.msn.com/id/2080992/ Gideon Rose faults the overselling of the war:

"The Bush team, by refusing to acknowledge any problems and by treating all critics as nervous nellies or quasi-fifth-columnists, is running the risk of compounding its earlier mistakes and opening up a significant credibility gap. Amazingly, what the administration seems not to understand even now is just how much of the flak it is taking is its own fault -- an inevitable backlash against the hardball tactics it has used to bring on a war that few others wanted. .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"By choosing to bully its way forward against all opposition, the administration gambled that a quick, easy war would silence the critics and provide its own retrospective justification. This might still happen, but in its lonely dash to Baghdad, the Bush team has left its own rear guard undefended, not just that of the troops in the field."

Salon's Jake Tapper http://www.salon.com/news/feature/2003/04/01/daschle/index.html has uncovered Tom Daschle's plea for help:

"As the war abroad continued to escalate last week, the nation's leading Democrat requested help for someone else under attack: himself. In response to Republican criticism, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle's reelection committee sent out an e-mail last Thursday to union presidents and other supporters asking for them to 'take the time to defend Senator Daschle from his critics.'

"The e-mail, obtained by Salon, noted that after Daschle 'criticized the Administration's diplomatic efforts, the conservative attack machine went into full swing.' On March 18, right before President George W. Bush issued his final ultimatum to Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, Daschle told an American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees audience that he was 'saddened, saddened, that this president failed so miserably at diplomacy that we're now forced to go to war. Saddened that we have to give up one life because this president couldn't create the kind of diplomatic effort that was so critical for our country.' These remarks were criticized for any number of reasons -- but the timing was particularly bad.

"The Daschle e-mail goes on to complain that the Republican National Committee, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, former Rep. John Thune, R-S.D., and their allies 'put out scathing attacks on Senator Daschle -- going so far as to even question his patriotism.' These criticisms, the e-mail stated, are being used by conservatives to 'flood their rhetoric on talk radio and in news rooms across the state and country.' It implored recipients to defend Daschle, who served with Air Force Intelligence during the Vietnam War, 'as a veteran, a patriot, and the best friend South Dakota veterans ever had.' .{sbquo}.{sbquo}.

"Daschle is up for reelection in 2004 and faces a possibly tough challenge from Thune, who lost a close Senate race last November to Daschle's protege, Sen. Tim Johnson."

No one should question Daschle's patriotism, but this was largely a self-inflicted wound.