Thursday, May 7, 2009

Iraq Returns To America’s Press, Sort Of

In March 2009 Iraq fell from America’s top ten stories for the first time since before the 2003 U.S. invasion. April 2003 was little better. While the war was back in the top ten for the week of April 20-26, 2009, for the preceding week it was not in the top ten in any major media outlet in the country. This was surprising as not only did President Obama make a trip to Iraq, but violence increased as well during that time period, which is the favorite form of reporting done by Americans about Iraq. That still didn’t stop the war sliding from U.S. headlines.

April saw Iraq back in the top ten of all news stories in the country for one week, and then disappear from all media outlets major stories in another week. Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism records reporting in America across newspapers, cable and network TV, radio, and the internet. For the week of March 30 to April 5 Pew found Iraq only reaching number six in U.S. newspapers, but not cracking the other media formats. The end of March was when the fighting between the government and Sons of Iraq forces in the Fadhil neighborhood of Baghdad ended. From April 6 to 12 the war was again not in the country’s top 10 stories, but did reach number seven online, number eight on cable TV, and number nine on the networks. That was the week that President Obama made an unannounced stop in Baghdad. A series of bombings also began in Baghdad, and five U.S. soldiers were killed by a suicide bomber in Mosul. The following week however, Iraq was not only absent from the top ten overall, but didn’t break the top ten in any media format. The up and down nature of U.S. reporting on the war was shown April 20 to 26 when Iraq cracked the top ten finally at number 9 overall, with 2% of all stories. More mass casualty bombings in Iraq was the cause. From April 27 to May 3 the war dropped out of the top ten again, and only reached number 7 in on-line reporting. This was despite the fact that three U.S. soldiers were killed, and more bombings hit the capital.

The up tick in violence and casualties in Iraq in April would seem to be just the type of story that would catch the American media’s attention, and increase reporting on the war. Instead, Iraq faded more despite reaching the top ten for one week. March was the first month Iraq dropped from the top ten stories overall for an entire month, and April saw it disappear from the top ten of all five forms of media in the U.S. for a week. Despite over 100,000 U.S. soldiers remaining in the country, continued U.S. and Iraqi deaths, and a withdrawal still over a year away the American press is finding the story less and less compelling. As in the past, the U.S. media is following Washington’s elites who are now more concerned about domestic issues with the recession, and increasingly the Afghanistan/Pakistan conflict. It would take a change in the nation’s capital, rather than events in Iraq to improve reporting.


Dagher, Sam, “Suicide Attack Kills 5 G.I.’s and 2 Iraqis in Northern City,” New York Times, 4/10/09

Dagher, Sam and Al-Salhy, Suadad, “Baghdad Is Shaken by a Series of Bombs,” New York Times, 4/29/09

Myers, Steven Lee, “Six Car Bombs Kill at Least 33 in Iraq,” New York Times, 4/6/09
- “Storm of Violence in Iraq Strains Its Security Forces,” New York Times, 4/24/09

Myers, Steven Lee and Cooper, Helene, “In Baghdad, Obama Presses Iraqi Leader to Unite Factions,” New York Times, 4/7/09

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellent in Journalism, “PEJ News Coverage Index, April 6-12, 2009: Focus Shifts Overseas as Economic News Recedes,” 4/13/09
- “PEJ News Coverage Index, April 13-19, 2009: Economy Shares Headlines with Pirates, Tea Parties and Waterboarding,” 4/20/09
- “PEJ News Coverage Index: April 20-26, 2009, Attention To Terror Tactics Make Major News,” 4/27/09
- “PEJ News Coverage Index: April 27-May 3, 2009, Flu Fears Dominate A Week of Big Events,” 5/4/09
- “PEJ News Coverage Index, March 30-April 5, 2009: Overseas and at Home, Economy Dominates,” 4/6/09

Rubin, Alissa, “Guns Go Silent After 24-Hour Face-Off in Baghdad, but Tensions Remain High,” New York Times, 3/29/09

Williams, Timothy, “3 U.S. Troops Are Killed in Iraq,” New York Times, 5/1/09

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