Sunday, July 5, 2009

Iraq Completely Disappears From America’s Headlines

According to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Index Iraq failed to reach the top ten in any media format for the four full weeks of June 2009. March 2009 was the first month that the war did not reach the top ten news stories overall in the country, but Iraq was still in the top ten of at least one media outlet such as TV, radio, newspapers or the internet. Since then Iraq has continued to fade from America’s attention. In May 2009 for example, Iraq not only did not make the top stories for the four weeks of the month, but in two of those weeks did not make the top ten in any media format. June has now topped that. This was despite the number of mass casualty bombings that racked the country, and the preparation for the American withdrawal from Iraq’s cities.

Reporting on the war began fading at the beginning of 2007 due to four major reasons. First, reporting from Iraq was dominated by stories about the violence there. According to a December 2007 study by the Project for Excellence In Journalism, from January to October 2007 daily violence accounted for 46.9% of all stories out of Iraq. As the fighting decreased in the second half of 2007 so to did the majority of stories from within the country. More important than that was the domestic situation in the United States. In May 2007 Congress gave up on trying to set a withdrawal date for U.S. forces to be out of Iraq. After that Washington hardly discussed the war anymore. As a June 2009 report by the Council on Foreign Relations on the media’s role in the lead-up to the 2003 invasion pointed out, the major source for stories within the U.S. is the government. When politicians stopped discussing the war then, reports on it started drying up as well. A third reason was the beginning of the 2008 presidential campaign, which really took off in January 2007. That soon got tied up with the recession, both of which became the main story in the U.S. up to the present day. Finally, with most media outlets facing major financial problems, they only had so much money and resources to spend. As the focus of American moved to domestic politics, the news companies began pulling out their reporters from Iraq. Out of the three major network TV stations for example, only ABC still has a bureau in Baghdad, but with no reporters according to the Los Angeles Times’ Show Tracker Blog. NBC and CBS already withdrew their staff. CNN and FOX have maintained reporters there, but out of the print media, only the New York Times, Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers, the Associated Press, and Reuters are still committed to reporting from the country.

The U.S. still has 131,000 troops in Iraq. That’s expected to drop to 50,000 by August 2010, before the final withdrawal deadline for all combat troops to be out of Iraq by December 31, 2011. After that the U.S. could maintain a large military advisory role in the country. That means continued casualties as well. Iraq also has massive political, social, and economy problems to overcome. All of this seems fated to go on without the American public getting the information it needs to evaluate the situation however. The role of the media in a democracy is to inform the people. It’s failing to do that job today with a war that has been going on for six years, and is likely to last several more years into the future.


Gelb, Leslie with Jeanne-Paloma Zelmati, “Mission Unaccomplished,” Democracy Journal, Summer 2009

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

Jurkowitz, Mark, “Why News of Iraq Dropped,” Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence In Journalism, 3/26/08

Londono, Ernesto, “U.S. Troops, Civilians to Become Less Protected on July 1,” Washington Post, 6/26/09

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, “Concilation In Cairo Drives The News Agenda, PEJ News Coverage Index: June 1-7, 2009,” 6/8/09
- “Iran Dominates As The Media Are The Message, PEJ News Coverage Index: June 15-21, 2009,” 6/22/09
- “Media Swing From Protests In Iran To The Passing Of The King Of Pop, PEJ News Coverage Index: June 22-28, 2009,” 6/29/09
- “No Story Dominates, But Iran Fascinates, PEJ News Coverage Index: June 8-14, 2009,” 6/15/09
- “The Portrait from Iraq – How the Press Has Covered Events on the Ground,” 12/19/07

Schogol, Jeff, “Odierno: Troop levels to drop to 120,000,” Stars and Stripes, 7/1/09

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

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