Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From December 1 to December 21, 2008, and Year-End Round Up

U.S. news coverage of Iraq in December 2008 was representative of the entire year. According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Index, which covers all forms of media in the United States, Iraq made it into the top ten news stories two of the three weeks from December 1 to December 21. The Center did not cover the last week of the year because they were on vacation. That has been about the average amount of news coverage for the war for all of 2008.

For the first three weeks of December Iraq averaged 2% of all U.S. news. For the first week of December Iraq did not make the top ten stories. From December 8 to 14, it was the number 9 story with 2% of press coverage. The major story that week was the court case of several Blackwater private security guards who were involved in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad. For the third week of December, Iraq moved up to the number 7 story and 4% of all American news. The reason for the jump was the journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi throwing his shoes at President Bush on his last trip to Iraq. The story seemed to be getting mass coverage, yet it did not push Iraq into the top five stories that week, which consisted of the recession, 15%, the in-coming Barak Obama administration, 14%, the Governor Blagojevich scandal, 12%, the problems with the U.S. car industry, 9%, and the Madoff banking scandal, 8%. The election, and now transition, and the sinking economy have dominated American news since 2007, pushing Iraq to the back burner.

That decline began in January 2007. Despite some brief increases, Iraq went from a top 5 news story in the beginning of 2007 with around 25% of the coverage, to about 4% of all stories by the end of 2007. The number of reports dropped again in 2008 down to about 2-3% during the year, and only making the top ten three out of four weeks. For the week of December 31, 2006 to January 5, 2007 for example, all Iraq related news accounted for 24% of reports with the number 3, 4, 5, and 6 stories in the country. By the middle of 2007, from May 27 to June 1, 2007, Iraq stories were down to 15% of the news. In the last week of the year covered by Pew, December 9 to 14, Iraq was the No. 5 story at 4%. The week of June 30 to July 6, 2008 was typical for last year when Iraq was the number 6 story and 3% of press coverage.

The associate director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism believes the turning point for the media was May 2007. In that month Congress passed a new Iraq war funding bill that did not include a timetable for a U.S. withdrawal. After that bill was passed U.S. lawmakers generally stopped discussing the war with a few exceptions such as General David Petraeus’ testimony in September 2007. When politicians decided to not talk about Iraq, the American media followed suit. Other stories like the election and the economy then moved to the forefront.

The outlook for 2009 appears to be no better, and news stories might decrease again. The New York Times recently reported that the three network news stations no longer have full-time reporters in Iraq anymore. ABC, CBS, and NBC are all cutting back their staffs in Iraq, usually only keeping a producer and a few Iraqi employees in Baghdad, and flying in reporters when a story breaks. Many are trying to move assets to Afghanistan now as they believe that will be the focus of the incoming Obama administration. As a result, network news has the least amount of coverage of Iraq. From January 1, 2008 to December 19, 2008 they committed 423 minutes to the war compared to 1,888 minutes in 2007. CNN and Fox News are keeping one reporter each in Iraq, while only a few U.S. newspapers are maintaining bureaus in Iraq such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and McClatchy Newspapers, along with the Associated Press and Reuters.

There will always be stories such as the shoe throwing incident that will catch the attention of the American media, but otherwise Iraq is fading from U.S. news. This is especially shocking since there are still over 140,000 American troops in the country. Soldiers are expected to be there until at least 2011 if not longer. The duty of the press is to inform the public. In the case of Iraq, they are failing in that job.

For more on reporting on Iraq see:

The Decline of Reporting on Iraq

Iraq News Coverage Update I

Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From June 2 to July 9, 2008

Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From July 7 to August 3, 2008

Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From July 28-August 31,2008

Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From September 1 to September 28, 2008

Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From September 29 to November 2, 2008

Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From November 3 to November 23, 2008


Myers, Steven Lee and Rubin, Alissa, “Iraqi Journalist Hurls Shoes at Bush and Denounces Him on TV as a ‘Dog,” New York Times, 12/14/08

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “A Christmas Present – No Story Eats The News, PEJ News Coverage Index: December 15-21,2008,” 12/22/08
- “Blago-Gate Dominates The Week’s News, PEJ News Coverage Index: December 8-14,2008,” 12/15/08
- “Both Campaigns Get The Summertime Blues, PEJ Campaign Coverage Index: June 30-July 6, 2008,” 7/7/08
- “Clinton Is The Big Winner Last Week In The Race For Coverage, Campaign Coverage Index: January 6-11,2008,” 1/12/08
- “The ‘Doctors’ Plot’ Is Number One, PEJ News Coverage Index: July 1-6, 2007,” 7/7/07
- “The News Gets Grimmer At Home And Abroad, PEJ News Coverage Index: December 1-7, 2008,” 1/8/08
- “Talk Hosts Opt For Politics Over The ‘TB Traveler,’ PEJ Talk Show Index: May 27-June 1, 2007,” 6/2/07
- “Talk Hosts Pounce As Clinton Appears to Stumble, PEJ Talk Show Index: December 9-14, 2007,” 12/15/07
- “The ‘Tyrant On Tour’ Coverage Tops The News, PEJ News Coverage Index: Sept. 23-28, 2007,” 9/29/07

Ricchiardi, Sherry, “Whatever Happened to Iraq?” American Journalism Review, June/July 2008

Stetler, Brian, “TV News Winds Down Operation on Iraq War,” New York Times, 12/29/08

Thompson, Ginger and Risen, James, “Plea by Blackwater Guard Helps Indict Others,” New York Times, 12/8/08

Zoepf, Katherine and Kakan, Atheer, “U.S. Prosecutor Goes to Iraq to Work on Blackwater Case,” New York Times, 12/7/08


AndrewSshi said...

I suspect that part of the problem is not only that the American media has the attention span of a goldfish, but also that we have an all-volunteer military. 80 to 120 soldiers dying every month and a massive, body spattering bomb somewhere every day both drew people's attention. Now, however, with 5-7 combat deaths a month, those Americans who don't have friends or family over the the Sandbox don't really have any kind of connection to it. The result is that with less demand, there's less supply on the media end.

In a way, it's kind of like the UK's wars in the 19th century. Given that the military was made up of volunteers, the English public could pay attention to or ignore wars at their leisure.

Joel Wing said...

If you look at this chart though:

You'll see that there was a steady and dramatic drop in reporting from Jan to Dec. 07 with a few uptakes for big events like Petraeu's testimony to Congress. Jan. 07 is when there was a big debate going on about the Surge or the Iraq Study Group, and then they began the troop increase, yet the number of stories continues to drop. Iraqi and U.S. deaths were still high at that point as well.

That's why I tend to argue that other events in the U.S., namely the presidential election and the tanking economy eventually pushed the war and most everything else off of the front pages.

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