September 19, 2006

The Taliban is Back … in the Headlines

August 1 -18 September 1 – 18
“Taliban” 1410 30900
“Resurgent Taliban” 6 1680
“Afghanistan” 4710 75100
“Bush” and “Afghanistan” 701 19300
“Bush” and “Taliban” 145 5740

The Taliban is Back… in the Headlines

The conflict in Afghanistan was long ago eclipsed in the news by the bloodier, more divisive war in Iraq. But recently the U.S./NATO battle against the forces of the ousted Taliban government has returned to the headlines – with a vengeance.

Between September 1 and the afternoon of 18th, for instance, there were more than 30,000 stories on Google News that contained the word “Taliban”. That’s a more than 1,000% increase over the number of stories (1,410) that featured that term in the first 18 days of August 2006. The number of stories mentioning "Afghanistan" jumped from 4,710 to more than 75,000.

And the story is not just that the Taliban are back in the news. It’s that their forces are fighting with new ferocity. The phrase “resurgent Taliban” yielded 1,680 stories on Google News September 1-18 compared to only 6 stories for the same period last month.

The September 11 remembrances surely had something to do with the huge bump in coverage. But conditions on the ground, including a recent spate of bombings and attacks by the Taliban, likely played a role as well. With NATO casualties reported to be hitting a five-year high, commanders in Afghanistan are calling for additional troops.

Some good-old pack journalism might be at play here. A large majority of the “resurgent Taliban” stories (1,480 to be exact) appeared after the much-watched Sept. 5 premier of Katie Couric’s “CBS Evening News” broadcast, which led with a segment from correspondent Lara Logan about the Taliban comeback.