War Coverage Fades Away

The New York Times confirms what we’ve all observed: as violence in Iraq recedes, our news outlets take less interest in events there:

According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

I suppose it’s understandable, in a way, that coverage would be “massively scaled back” when there is less violence to report on. One wonders, though, whether the change may be due in part to the fact that network executives are more excited about publicizing apparent failure in Iraq than success there.

The journalists who complained to the Times about their employers’ lack of interest in Iraq and Afghanistan also noted that interest has flagged among the American public:

On “The Daily Show,” Ms. Logan echoed the comments of other journalists when she said that many Americans seem uninterested in the wars now. Mr. McCarthy said that when he is in the United States, bringing up Baghdad at a dinner party “is like a conversation killer.”

I’m afraid that’s also true. The conclusion of the Times piece is revealing, too:

Journalists at all three American television networks with evening newscasts expressed worries that their news organizations would withdraw from the Iraqi capital after the November presidential election. They spoke only on the condition of anonymity in order to avoid offending their employers.

It’s interesting that the journalists themselves link their employers’ interest in Iraq to the election. I think it’s fair to say that the mainstream media’s interest in Iraq has always been driven largely by the opportunity to spin events there in a way that advances a political agenda. Remember al Qaqaa? That story dominated the news for a week before the 2004 Presidential election. It was a story of great importance, however, only as long as it could be used to help John Kerry’s Presidential campaign. Once the election was over, al Qaqaa was never heard of again. With hindsight, that episode might be taken as a paradigm of far too much of the mainstream media’s coverage of the war.

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