Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Iraq Disappearing From America’s News

For the first time since 2002 Iraq did not reach the top 10 news stories in America according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. For the four weeks from March 2 to 29, 2009 Iraq did not reach the top ten once. The Pew Center covers stories across newspapers, radio, the internet, and network and cable TV. As in previous months the top news stories were the economic crisis and the new Obama administration. For March 2 to 8, Iraq only reached number 6 on the radio, but was absent from the other outlets. That week the news was on the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The next week, March 9-15, Iraq was number 5 and 10 in newspapers, and number eight online, but didn’t rank on any other form of media. The sentencing of Muntader al-Ziadi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush, and Saddam Hussein’s former Foreign Minister Tariq Azziz occurred then, along with some mass casualty bombings. From March 16 to 22, the war got into the newspapers at Number 6, and network TV at number 7, and number 10 on Cable TV, but that wasn’t enough to crack the overall top 10. That week former Vice President Cheney claimed success in Iraq in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, and it was the 6th anniversary of the U.S. invasion. In the last week of the month Iraq was number 8 in the newspapers and network TV. The arrest of a Sons of Iraq leader in Baghdad, followed by a shootout with Iraqi forces marked that period.

U.S. coverage of Iraq has been on a steady decline since 2007. The American media has largely followed policy makers and politicians when reporting on the war. In May 2007, Congress stopped discussing legislating a withdrawal of U.S. forces, and in September General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker testified in Washington on the Surge. After that news on the war dropped to less than 10% of news coverage. (See graph above) In 2008 major media organizations began withdrawing their staff and reporters from the country, and that trend continued into 2009. As a result, Iraq dropped to 1-3% of U.S. reporting. Now the war is even less than 1% of all stories.

The lack of politicians talking about Iraq on a consistent basis, the economic crisis, the change in administration, the new emphasis upon Afghanistan, along with the lack of reporters in Iraq have all led to March being the first month in over seven years that the war has not been a top story in America. This is something that has been long predicted here. Over 100,000 U.S. troops are expected to be in the country until early next year, and all U.S. forces are not due to depart until December 31, 2011. Dramatic events like bombings or Iraqi elections will still get coverage, but the everyday experiences of both Iraqis and Americans will largely be a fading story for many U.S. news outlets, and hence for the American public.

For more on American reporting on the war click on the "reporting" label at the bottom of the post.


Associated Press, “Former Saddam Cabinet Minister Sentenced,” 3/11/09

CBS/AP, “Iraqis Burn Flags To Mark 6th Anniversary,” 3/20/09

Gold, Matea, “Show Tracker: What you’re watching,” Show Tracker: What You’re Watching Blog, Los Angeles Times, 1/7/09

Kelly, Mary Louise, “A Big Move: Getting Military Equipment Out Of Iraq,” All Things Considered, NPR, 3/2/09

Londono, Ernesto and Paley, Amit, “Western Journalists in Iraq Stage Pullback of Their Own,” Washington Post, 10/11/08

Mohammed, Riyadh and Ali, Anwar, “Iraqi Shoe Thrower Gets Three Years,” New York Times, 3/12/09

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “PEJ News Coverage Index, March 2-8, 2009: Falling Stocks and Rising Rush Fuel The News,” 3/9/09
- “PEJ News Coverage Index, March 9-15, 2009: Media Focus On Economic Villains: Bonuses, Bernie and Blather,” 3/16/09
- “PEJ News Coverage Index, March 16-22, 2009: One Story Dominates: AIG in the Crosshairs,” 3/23/09
- “PEJ News Coverage Index, March 23-29: Geithner’s Plan Drives the Narrative,” 3/30/09

Ricchiardi, Sherry, “How the Media Abandoned Iraq,” American Journalism Review, June/July 2008

Rubin, Alissa and Nordland, Rod, “Troops Arrest an Awakening Council Leader in Iraq, Setting Off Fighting,” New York Times, 3/28/09

Rubin, Alissa and Santora, Marc, “Bomber Kills Dozens in Iraq as Fears of New Violence Rise,” New York Times, 3/10/09

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

Sulzberger, A.G., “Cheney Says Obama Has Increased Risks,” New York Times, 3/15/09


Anonymous said...


The odd element of this trend is that it can easily be viewed as a mark of success in Iraq. Most Iraqis, I imagine, do not mind that there are fewer per-month deaths in their country and that news of their country isn't featured above-the-fold in the NYTimes and WaPo.

By the way, really nice piece of analysis. I especially like that you include your sources.

Back in 2005, I spent several weeks researching a piece and then writing up something close to what you're doing here.

Iraqi Antiquities Revisited.

Like you, I am a teacher (university-level ESL in NYC), so I usually don't have the time to devote to that much background research (and run the IBC blog).


Anonymous said...


Hey, as a teacher, I thought you might also like to read this essay that was appended to the story on the Iraq National Museum:

Basic Research and Composition.


Joel Wing said...

Thanks for the links. I skimmed through the second one.

As for the U.S. media, I don't know if I would say it was because of the successes in Iraq. If you look at that chart reporting took a nose dive in 2007 with some blips up due to things like the withdrawal debate in Congress and Petraeus'/Crockers' testimony to Congress. All the way through mid-2007 however Iraq had some of the highest casualties of the war as the sectarian fighting reached a crescendo and then receded. I think what it shows is that the American media's coverage follows elites in Washington, almost regardless of what's going on in Iraq. When people in Washington stopped talking about the war, so did the news.

Anonymous said...


I think what it shows is that the American media's coverage follows elites in Washington, almost regardless of what's going on in Iraq. When people in Washington stopped talking about the war, so did the news.

That sounds about right to me.


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