What we all Know about Press Coverage in Iraq: Confirmed

The Pew Research Center runs the Project for Excellence in Journalism which examines the press in a statistical and scientific way.

What they found about coverage of the Iraq War surprises no one who has been closely following that conflict in the newspapers and on the cable nets - that as the situation has improved, press coverage has dropped to next to nothing:

Through the first 10 months of the year, the picture of Iraq that Americans received from the news media was, in considerable measure, a grim one. Roughly half of the reporting has consisted of accounts of daily violence. And stories that explicitly assessed the direction of the war have tended toward pessimism, according to a new study of press coverage of events on the ground in Iraq from January through October of 2007.

In what Defense Department statistics show to be the deadliest year so far for U.S. forces in Iraq, journalists have responded to the challenge of covering the continuing violence by keeping many of the accounts of these attacks brief and limiting the interpretation they contain.

As the year went on, the narrative from Iraq brightened in some ways. The drumbeat of reports about daily attacks declined in late summer and fall, and with that came a decline in the amount of coverage from Iraq overall. This shift in coverage beginning in June, in turn, coincided with a rising sense among the American public that military efforts in Iraq were going "very" or "fairly well."
"If it bleeds it leads" may be a good enough slogan for covering news in peacetime. But the unconscionable way the media in the United States has covered this war should haunt them for years - if they had the guts and the desire for introspection that would reveal their utter failure to their craft and to the people of the United States.

Other conclusions reached by the study:

  • Daily accounts of violence made up 47% of all stories studied during the first 10 months of 2007. But because many of these stories were short, that represented just 27% of the time and space-or newshole-of the coverage studied.
  • Through June, more than half of all stories studied were about violent incidents, but that number fell to roughly one third in September and October.
  • Just more than half (56%) of the stories that offered a clear assessment of where things in Iraq were headed were pessimistic, but that coverage was more skeptical of the Iraqi government and the stability of the country than it was of U.S. policy.
  • Stories assessing the effectiveness of U.S. policy-including the surge-more often than not were neither distinctly positive nor negative in the message they conveyed. Four in ten offered a mixed assessment, while a third were pessimistic and a quarter saw things as improving.
  • A separate analysis of coverage in November, beyond the time frame of the main study, indicates that during that month positive assessments of the surge began to rise.
  • The coverage overall was U.S. centric in subject matter. About half of all the coverage from Iraq was about the American military and U.S. officials. Roughly another 10% was about private contractors, mostly Blackwater.
  • Coverage of Iraqi civilians, by contrast, made up far less, 3% of stories and 5% of overall newshole.
  • Despite enormous difficulty in getting access to sources, Americans did get a wide range of perspectives. Fully 40% of stories (representing 61% of the newshole) carried the views of multiple of types of stakeholders.
We should remember in our criticism that more than 80 journalists have been killed during the conflict and that coverage of the war still is a hazardous undertaking. But that is no excuse for many of the criticisms pointed out by this study which showed a laziness and a bias about what was covered.

Will the press have the courage to examine their shortcomings and genuinely try to overcome them? Past history would suggest not. The insularity and arrogance of the media brooks no self-examination - at least the kind that would do any good.

This is why bloggers and independent embeds must continue to do the reporting the MSM refuses to do. At least, the full story of what is going on in Iraq will be available somewhere.

The Pew Research Center runs the Project for Excellence in Journalism which examines the press in a statistical and scientific way.

What they found about coverage of the Iraq War surprises no one who has been closely following that conflict in the newspapers and on the cable nets - that as the situation has improved, press coverage has dropped to next to nothing:

Through the first 10 months of the year, the picture of Iraq that Americans received from the news media was, in considerable measure, a grim one. Roughly half of the reporting has consisted of accounts of daily violence. And stories that explicitly assessed the direction of the war have tended toward pessimism, according to a new study of press coverage of events on the ground in Iraq from January through October of 2007.

In what Defense Department statistics show to be the deadliest year so far for U.S. forces in Iraq, journalists have responded to the challenge of covering the continuing violence by keeping many of the accounts of these attacks brief and limiting the interpretation they contain.

As the year went on, the narrative from Iraq brightened in some ways. The drumbeat of reports about daily attacks declined in late summer and fall, and with that came a decline in the amount of coverage from Iraq overall. This shift in coverage beginning in June, in turn, coincided with a rising sense among the American public that military efforts in Iraq were going "very" or "fairly well."
"If it bleeds it leads" may be a good enough slogan for covering news in peacetime. But the unconscionable way the media in the United States has covered this war should haunt them for years - if they had the guts and the desire for introspection that would reveal their utter failure to their craft and to the people of the United States.

Other conclusions reached by the study:

  • Daily accounts of violence made up 47% of all stories studied during the first 10 months of 2007. But because many of these stories were short, that represented just 27% of the time and space-or newshole-of the coverage studied.
  • Through June, more than half of all stories studied were about violent incidents, but that number fell to roughly one third in September and October.
  • Just more than half (56%) of the stories that offered a clear assessment of where things in Iraq were headed were pessimistic, but that coverage was more skeptical of the Iraqi government and the stability of the country than it was of U.S. policy.
  • Stories assessing the effectiveness of U.S. policy-including the surge-more often than not were neither distinctly positive nor negative in the message they conveyed. Four in ten offered a mixed assessment, while a third were pessimistic and a quarter saw things as improving.
  • A separate analysis of coverage in November, beyond the time frame of the main study, indicates that during that month positive assessments of the surge began to rise.
  • The coverage overall was U.S. centric in subject matter. About half of all the coverage from Iraq was about the American military and U.S. officials. Roughly another 10% was about private contractors, mostly Blackwater.
  • Coverage of Iraqi civilians, by contrast, made up far less, 3% of stories and 5% of overall newshole.
  • Despite enormous difficulty in getting access to sources, Americans did get a wide range of perspectives. Fully 40% of stories (representing 61% of the newshole) carried the views of multiple of types of stakeholders.
We should remember in our criticism that more than 80 journalists have been killed during the conflict and that coverage of the war still is a hazardous undertaking. But that is no excuse for many of the criticisms pointed out by this study which showed a laziness and a bias about what was covered.

Will the press have the courage to examine their shortcomings and genuinely try to overcome them? Past history would suggest not. The insularity and arrogance of the media brooks no self-examination - at least the kind that would do any good.

This is why bloggers and independent embeds must continue to do the reporting the MSM refuses to do. At least, the full story of what is going on in Iraq will be available somewhere.