Remember Iraq?

Because it’s becoming easier to forget.  Media coverage of the War in Iraq has decreased in the past year.  According to this story in the American Journalism Review, “During the first 10 weeks of 2007, Iraq accounted for 23 percent of the newshole fornetwork TV news. In 2008, it plummeted to 3 percent during that period. On cable networks it fell from 24 percent to 1 percent.”

Why?  Is it because there is there are so many fewer people dying in Basra and Baghdad now than there were a year ago?  No.

Los Angeles Times’ foreign editor Marjorie Miller attributes the decline to three factors:

• The economic downturn and the contentious presidential primaries have sucked oxygen from Iraq. “We have a woman, an African American and a senior running for president,” Miller says. “That is a very big story.”

• With no solutions in sight, with no light at the end of the tunnel, war fatigue has become a factor. Over the years, a bleak sameness has settled into accounts of suicide bombings and brutal sectarian violence. Insurgents fighting counterinsurgents are hard to translate to an American audience.

• The sheer cost of keeping correspondents on the ground in Baghdad is trimming the roster of journalists. The expense is “unlike anything we’ve ever faced. We have shouldered the financial burden so far, but we are really squeezed,” Miller says. Earlier, the L.A. Times had as many as five Western correspondents in the field. The bureau is down to two or three plus Iraqi staff.

Other media decision-makers echo Miller’s analysis.

I don’t doubt that Ms. Miller’s analysis holds some validity.  I know that it’s expensive to cover the war and that it’s a pretty complicated military situation and I I know that there is a limited amount of space on the front page of a newspaper (though not on a website).  But isn’t it the media’s responsibility to inform the public of what is happening, even if the public isn’t begging for it?  That is how media helps to preserve civil society.

Some journalists agree with me.

The public tends to take cues from the media about what is important. If Iraq is pushed to a back burner, the signal is clear — the war no longer is a top priority. It follows that news consumers lose interest and turn their attention elsewhere. The Pew study found exactly that: As news coverage of the war diminished, so too did the public interest in Iraq.

But what I found to be the most most tragic statistic in the whole article was this one:

By March 2008, a striking reversal had taken place. Only 28 percent of Americans knew that 4,000 military personnel had been killed in the conflict, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Eight months earlier, 54 percent could cite the correct casualty rate

Hope everyone had a pleasant Memorial Day.


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