June 25, 2008

The U.S. Media and the Other War

Afghanistan Iraq
Jan 08 0.5 3.7
Feb 08 1.2 3.3
Mar 08 0.6 8.3
Apr 08 0.5 6.9
May 08 0.3 3
Jun 08 (1-22) 1.7 3.1

6:1-Coverage of Iraq compared to Afghanistan in 2008.

On June 13, 400 Taliban prisoners-of-war escaped from the Kandahar jail, igniting a series of clashes between militants and NATO and Afghan soldiers. That surge in violence has resulted in the highest level of sustained coverage of the war in Afghanistan in 16 months. For the first three weeks in June 2008, news about that conflict filled 1.8% of the newshole measured by PEJ’s News Coverage Index— about six times higher than the coverage level in May 2008 (.3%).

Despite this recent spike in attention, however, the war that the U.S. launched a month after the 9/11 attacks—and one that has resulted in more than 450 American military deaths—is generally not a major newsmaker. For all of 2008, coverage of Afghanistan has accounted for less than one percent (.8%) of the newshole. In 2007, it represented only .9% of the coverage.

There has been much discussion about the dramatic drop-off of coverage of the Iraq war this year. (In June 2008, Iraq coverage filled only 3.1% of the newshole compared with 9.8% in June 2007.) There are a number of reasons given for this, including the extensive media attention the presidential campaign has commanded. But even news about Iraq way down, coverage of that conflict still overshadows the Afghan struggle. From the beginning of this year through June 22, Iraq coverage registered at 4.7% of the newshole, generating six times more attention than news from the battlefields of Afghanistan.