Rather than crying "conspiracy!" let's chalk it up to bottom line journalism. For in the end, what drives news coverage in this country is the estimation of how many eyeballs will be glued to the set when a particular story is run.
This is the sad fact that is currently bedeviling coverage of the Iraq War. And the idea that it is finally receiving some attention only means that reporters can whine along with the rest of us; nothing is going to change:
As shocking as the fact that CBS can't justify the presence of a full time Baghdad correspondent, the more one thinks about the reason this is so, the more angry you get. It's not that there is nothing going on in Iraq to justify keeping a man in Baghdad. It is the kind of story that CBS wants to cover - the death and wounding of Americans - that doesn't occur often enough. Without Americans getting killed, CBS doesn't see a story.
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.
And there are other reasons as well:
Engle is lucky because his reports can appear on either NBC or MSNBC. Other network reporters aren't so fortunate.
Interviews with executives and correspondents at television news networks suggested that while the CBS cutbacks are the most extensive to date in Baghdad, many journalists shared varying levels of frustration about placing war stories onto newscasts. "I've never met a journalist who hasn't been frustrated about getting his or her stories on the air," said Terry McCarthy, an ABC News correspondent in Baghdad.
By telephone from Baghdad, Mr. McCarthy said he was not as busy as he was a year ago. A decline in the relative amount of violence "is taking the urgency out" of some of the coverage, he said. Still, he gets on ABC's "World News" and other programs with stories, including one on Friday about American gains in northern Iraq.
Anita McNaught, a correspondent for the Fox News Channel, agreed. "The violence itself is not the story anymore," she said. She counted eight reports she had filed since arriving in Baghdad six weeks ago, noting that cable news channels like Fox News and CNN have considerably more time to fill with news than the networks. CNN and Fox each have two fulltime correspondents in Iraq.
Richard Engel, the chief foreign correspondent for NBC News, who splits his time between Iraq and other countries, said he found his producers "very receptive to stories about Iraq." He and other journalists noted that the heated presidential primary campaign put other news stories on the back burner earlier this year.
Perhaps if enough stories are done about the lack of stories from Iraq people will take notice and draw the necessary conclusion that progress is being made. But as long as this bottom line journalism drives coverage of the war, it is unlikely that regular reports of gains being made will make it on the evening news.