October 30, 2006

The Phrase (and Issue) that Won’t Go Away

stay-the-course and Iraq cut-and-run and Iraq timetable and Iraq benchmarks and Iraq
October 9-15 921 771 789 76
October 16-22 1030 1090 952 308
October 23-30 2570 1860 3650 3160

The news media are not cutting and running, at least when it comes to the politically potent slogan “stay the course.”

On Oct. 23, White House Press Secretary Tony Snow tried to banish “stay the course” from the lexicon by asserting that the term was a mischaracterization of U.S. policy in Iraq. He said that President Bush had stopped using it “because it left the wrong impression about what was going on.”

But the efforts to take the words “stay the course” out of the conversation seem if anything to have intensified media coverage of the issue, at least as measured by searches of Google News. In the eight days after Snow’s press briefing (Oct. 23-30), the number of stories about Iraq containing the term “stay the course” more than doubled over the previous week’s total (Oct. 16-22), jumping to 2,570 from 1,030. And compared to the week of Oct 9-15, it nearly tripled.

It’s not just “stay the course,” moreover, that is getting more play. Stories featuring "Iraq" and the term “cut and run”—which Republicans use to describe Democrats on Iraq—have also more than doubled, from 771 in the week of Oct. 9–15 to 1,860 in the period from Oct. 23-30. Stories with the phrases “timetable” and “Iraq” have more than quadrupled, from 789 to 3,650 in the same period. And the instances of the words “benchmarks” and “Iraq” appearing in the same story have jumped to 3,160, up from just 76 times the week of October 9 -15.

What is going on here? As the election draws nearer and politicians vie to control the terminology, the debate on Iraq policy has grown more intense. The wrangling over vernacular may strike some people as spin, but it has apparently helped frame and intensify the campaign debate around the elements of U.S. policy in Iraq.