June 9, 2010

America’s Longest War Fights for Media Attention

Q1 2007 1.1
Q2 2007 0.9
Q3 2007 0.9
Q4 2007 0.6
Q1 2008 0.8
Q2 2008 0.9
Q3 2008 1.2
Q4 2008 0.9
Q1 2009 1.7
Q2 2009 1.6
Q3 2009 5.4
Q4 2009 9.5
Q1 2010 3.3
Q2* 2010 2

2.8%–Percentage of newshole devoted to the war in Afghanistan in 2010

June 7 marked a significant military milestone. It was the day that the Afghanistan war—which began in October 2001—surpassed Vietnam to become the longest conflict in U.S. history. And June has been a particularly violent month with 29 NATO casualties—including 10 deaths on June 7.

Yet, after a major spike in late 2009, media coverage of the war has slumped dramatically this year. In 2010 to date, the Afghanistan conflict has filled 2.8% of the overall newshole. And that includes a steady drop in attention. In the first three months of the year, the war accounted for 3.3% of the overall newshole. In the second quarter (April 1-June 6), it slumped to 2.0%.

It wasn’t that long ago that Afghanistan was generating significantly more media attention. In the third quarter of 2009, the subject filled 5.4% of the newshole as the fighting on the ground escalated and the country held what proved to be a disputed presidential election in August.

In the fourth quarter of 2009, coverage increased to 9.5% as Afghanistan held a second round of presidential balloting and the White House, after lengthy deliberations, announced it was sending 30,000 more troops to the war zone. In that period, the war trailed only the health care debate and the economy on the roster of top stories.

That level of coverage represented a stark contrast from how the war had been covered earlier. In 2007 and 2008, the relatively low-level fighting in Afghanistan filled only 0.9% of the overall newshole. (The PEJ began its News Coverage Index in January 2007). The big jump in coverage in late 2009 raised the possibility that after years of minimal attention, the war was finally emerging as a major ongoing story.

But thus far, this year’s coverage trajectory seems to suggest that the longest-running conflict in U.S. history is still having a difficult time getting into the headlines.