According to the Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence In Journalism News Index, Iraq reached the top ten stories in America four out of five weeks from September 29 to November 2, 2008. The News Index covers stories across all U.S. media outlets from newspapers, to magazines, to TV, radio, and the internet. The October coverage was a decline from the previous four weeks when the war was in the top ten for the entire month.
During October reports on Iraq varied from 3% of all news stories down to 1%. From September 29 to October 5, the war was the number 7 story in the country with 1% of the coverage. The major stories were bombings during the end of Ramadan, and the signing of a new provincial election law. From October 6 to 12, the war moved up to the number 4 story, but coverage remained at 1% of the total. That week Christians in Mosul were attacked, and negotiations over a Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and Iraq to maintain American forces in the country after December 31, 2008 when their United Nations mandate expires were some of the main news. The next week, October 13 to 19, Iraq failed to make the top 10. From October 20 to 26 however, the war reached its highest coverage at 3% total as Iraq was the number five story at 2%, and how the war impacted the United States was number 10 with 1%. On the home front, the media reported on the court martial of a U.S. soldiers accused of killing two of his officers, while in Iraq they covered the handover of Babil province to the Iraqi government, and the continued negotiations over the SOFA. Finally, from October 27 to November 2, Iraq was the number four story with 2% of coverage. More on the SOFA talks, a record low in U.S. troops deaths, and an American raid into Syria to kill an Al Qaeda operative were some of the main news covered that week.
As reported earlier, coverage of Iraq has dropped dramatically over the last two years. In January 2007, Iraq made up 24.9% of all stories in the U.S. according to the Pew Research Center. By March 2008 it had dropped to 5.2%. Since the summer of 2008, Iraq has dropped down to only 1-2% of coverage on average, and usually only makes the top ten news stories every other week. Television has seen the greatest decline of coverage, while newspapers have the most, but even then, the total number of stories has been dropping. Front page stories in the New York Times, Washington Post, and Los Angeles Times, three papers that have Baghdad offices, went from 858 in 2003, to 379 in 2007, to just 138 in the first nine months of 2008. The major reasons have been the end of public debate about the war in Congress, the presidential election, the problems with the economy, and increasing emphasis upon Afghanistan. As a result, many news agencies have been pulling their staff out of Iraq. CBS and NBC for example, no longer have full time reporters in Baghdad.
As long as the United States has troops in Iraq, it will continue to be a story. Its importance to politicians and the public however, are reflected in the declining coverage. The media, rather than setting the agenda, usually follow what is going on in Washington D.C., so unless politicians again take up the war, it will probably continue to be in the news, but at the low levels it has been since this summer.
For more on U.S. press coverage of 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
Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From July 28 to August 31, 2008
Monthly Media Coverage of Iraq From September 1 to September 28, 2008
Associated Press, “Iraq’s President Signs Elections Law,” CBS News, 10/3/08
- “U.S. Deaths In Iraq Plunge To Wartime Low,” 10/31/08
CBS/Associated Press, “Iraq ‘Fragging’ Trial To Open At Ft. Bragg,” 10/22/08
- “U.S. Hands Over 12th Iraqi Province,” 10/23/08
- “U.S. Nears Deal To Keep Troops In Iraq,” 10/7/08
Dagher, Sam, “Iraqis Insist on Changes to Long-Delayed Security Pact With U.S.,” New York Times, 10/30/08
Farrell, Stephen, “Baghdad Suicide Bombers Kill 2 Dozen in Attacks on Mosques,” New York Times, 10/2/08
Knickmeyer, Ellen, “Syria Protests U.S. Raid To U.N., Orders Closures,” Washington Post, 10/29/08
Pew Research Center’s Project For Excellence In Journalism, “Campaign Coverage Index, Oct 27-Nov. 2, 2008: Near The End, It’s All About Numbers,” 11/3/08
- “Iraq War Coverage Plunges,” 3/25/08
- “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index: October 6-12, 2008: Economy Shrinks, Tactics Grow, In Media Narrative,” 10/14/08
- “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, October 13-19, 2008: A Plumber (Sort of) Gets His 15 Minutes,” 10/20/08
- “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index, October 20-26, 2008: As the Candidates Head Down the Stretch, Horse Race Dominates,” 10/27/08
- “PEJ Campaign Coverage Index: September 29-October 5, 2008: Veep Debate, Palin Rule Campaign News,” 10/6/08
Rubin, Alissa and Zoepf, Katherine, “Iraqi Cabinet Wants Security Agreement Altered,” New York Times, 10/21/08