March 25, 2008

Iraq War Coverage Plunges

Overall Newspaper Online Network TV Cable TV Radio
Jan. 2007 24.9 19 20.6 32.9 28.7 24.3
Feb. 2007 21.9 16.9 26.7 25.9 18.8 28.4
Mar. 2007 19.7 18 23 22.8 19.7 14.2
Apr. 2007 15.7 14.9 22.3 17.3 12.5 12.5
May 2007 18.8 16.4 22.5 18.5 19.7 17.3
Jun. 2007 9.8 10.6 13.8 10.8 8.1 4.4
Jul. 2007 15.5 15.3 14.9 19.5 14.3 13.3
Aug. 2007 10.4 11.5 14 8.8 8.9 8.4
Sep. 2007 23.2 21.2 21.7 26.2 23.6 24.8
Oct. 2007 12 14.1 14.7 8 8.8 16
Nov. 2007 7.7 11.4 7.1 5.8 6 6.7
Dec. 2007 6.2 7.4 9.2 5.2 3.6 5.5
Jan. 2008 3.7 6.6 3.4 3 1.4 3
Feb. 2008 3.1 3.6 6.5 2.6 1.3 2.5
Mar. 2008* 5.2 7.7 6.2 6.2 1.5 5.2

4%-Percentage of media newshole devoted to the Iraq war from Jan. 1 – Mar. 20, 2008.

In January 2007, President Bush announced the “surge” strategy to increase in the troop level in Iraq. With a newly elected Democratic-led Congress eager to reduce U.S. involvement in the war, the Iraq conflict became a dominant political story. During that month, coverage of the war consumed a full quarter of the print, television, and online newshole as measured by PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

In monitoring coverage of the Iraq war, PEJ divided the conflict into three threads. The policy debate, which was the largest component of Iraq coverage in 2007, dealt with the Washington-based political struggle to control funding and strategy for the war. Events inside Iraq, the second largest thread, involved the situation inside Iraq itself, from combat and violence to the activities of the Iraqi government. The smallest thread, the war on the homefront, included everything from the lives of military families to the discovery of sub-standard conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

As this chart shows, the general trajectory of Iraq coverage has been on a steady downward march since January 2007. There were several noticeable spikes in the coverage, the most dramatic of which occurred in September when General David Petraeus gave Congress a much-awaited progress report on Iraq. Although the reports from Petraeus and Ambassador Ryan Crocker essentially reinforced the status quo, the media buzz around the event helped generate the second-highest level of monthly coverage in September, at 23% of the newshole.

In the last quarter of 2007, coverage of the war diminished as coverage of another major event—the 2008 presidential campaign—picked up dramatically. Those trends continued and expanded this year. In February 2008, coverage of the war in Iraq dropped to 3%, the lowest total for any one month since the News Coverage Index began in January 2007. Coverage of the war rebounded slightly from March 1 through March 20 of this year, when it accounted for 5% of the newshole. One catalyst for that increase in coverage was the fifth anniversary of the war, which generated an examination of both the conflict and the fact that it seemed to have largely disappeared from the news media’s radar screen.

By Tricia Sartor and Mark Jurkowitz of PEJ

*Includes March 1-20, 2008