May 23, 2002

The War on Terrorism

War Coverage

Overall, about three-in-ten stories on the nightly news (31%) were about America's war on terrorism, whether those were stories about activities oversees, feature stories about how people were coping, a celebrity benefit concert, the possible impact on the stock market, or news about Presidential action. In mornings, it was half that, 14%.

War Related Coverage, Percent of Newscast
 
All Networks 31% 14%
ABC 32% 15%
CBS 31% 14%
NBC 27% 13%

In both the evenings and mornings, NBC was slightly less likely to air these stories than either of the other two networks.

What kinds of war stories did television carry? The vast majority in both the evening and morning was a part of the program's hard news.

In evening news, nearly half of the stories were military pieces, about, for example, casualties and military conditions in the Battle of Gardez. Just over one in five concerned domestic affairs, such as airport security and another 17% were foreign affair stories such as the kidnapping of Daniel Pearl or the terror crackdown in Yemen.

A smaller percentage of the war stories related to crime and legal prosecutions such as the charge of treason against John Walker Lindh, the California Muslim who fought with the Taliban and the Zacarias Moussaoui trial.

Breakdown of War Related Stories
 
Total Hard News 84.2% 86.6%
  Government 1.3% 2.2%
  Military 44.8 29.5
  Domestic Affairs 21.6 39.9
  Foreign Affairs 16.5 15.0
Celebrity/Entertainment 0 1.9
Crime/Law/Courts 13.8 9.3
Business/Economy 0.4 0
Science/Technology 0.2 0
Lifestyle 1.2 1.6
Religion 0.2 0.6
Total 100 100

Among the morning shows, hard news was still by far the most common source for war stories (87%), but the breakdown is a little different. Morning news was less likely to run stories about the military (30%) or foreign affairs (15%) and more likely to cover domestic issues relating to the war (40%).

In addition, the morning shows did manage to inject in a handful of entertainment stories related to the war. Pieces such as how the World Trade Center disaster inspired comic book writers, PBS's intention to have Sesame Street address the attacks and charity concerts accounted for 2% of their war stories.