July 9, 2009

Iraq – The Incredible Shrinking Story

Iraq Coverage
Q1 2007 22.3
Q2 2007 14.8
Q3 2007 16.1
Q4 2007 8.7
Q1 2008 5
Q2 2008 4.4
Q3 2008 3
Q4 2008 2.1
Q1 2009 2.4
Q2 2009* 1.7

92% – Drop in Iraq coverage from the beginning of 2007 to the middle of 2009

June 30 was declared “National Sovereignty Day” in Iraq as U.S. soldiers pulled out from cities there. The date marked a major milestone in the six-year war, and for the week of June 29-July 5, 2009, events inside Iraq filled 5.6% of the newshole, the highest level of media attention to that subject this year. The situation inside Iraq is one aspect of the war that PEJ tracks along with the Iraq policy debate and the impact of the war on the U.S. home front. When all three Iraq threads are combined, the story filled 6.6% of the newshole from June 29-July 5.

Yet last week’s jump in coverage runs counter to a long and clear trend. Media attention to the war has declined dramatically since the News Coverage Index began measuring it back in January 2007. In the first quarter of that year, with Congress and President Bush locked in a battle for control of Iraq policy, the war was the top story, accounting for 22.3% of the newshole. By the second quarter of 2009 (which runs through July 5), it had declined by more than 90%—to only 1.7% of the newshole.

Coverage of the war has steadily dropped as the domestic debate over Iraq policy abated, the violence in that country diminished and the U.S. de-escalated its role in the past few years. For all of 2007, the three Iraq storylines filled 15.5% of the newshole, with the bulk of attention focused on the Washington war debate. (This thread filled 7.8% of the overall newshole). In 2008, Iraq coverage plummeted to only 3.6% of the overall newshole, with the biggest component (2.1%) focused on events within Iraq. In the first half of 2009, attention to Iraq fell even further, to just 2% of the newshole, with slightly more than half of that (1.1%) devoted to the events inside Iraq. 

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ