Iraq War Coverage Skews Perceptions

Source: Maverick Media

On the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, media coverage of the occupation continues to decline. According to a survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war has sharply declined since last year, dropping from an average of 15% last July to just 3% in February, 2008. Public interest has also dropped. The Pew Research Center notes that Iraq was the public’s most closely followed story in the first half of 2007, but has since become much less dominant. As a result, the war hasn’t been the public’s top weekly story since mid-October.

Writing for the Huffington Post, Paul Rieckhoff reports that the drop in coverage is skewing public perceptions of the war. Over 80% of Americans are aware that Oprah Winfrey endorsed Senator Obama, he notes, yet only 28% know how many US troops have died in Iraq. Compounding the problem, CNN, FOX News, ABC News, CBS, or MSNBC offered no coverage of the historic Winter Soldier hearings held in Washington, DC last week.

Filling the vacuum, the Internet has emerged as a major news source on the war. Numerous websites provide raw data, catalogue coalition and civilian casualties, translate local Iraqi newspapers into English, and offer first-hand accounts of life in Baghdad. Melissa Wall of California State University Northridge calls it "a paradigm shift of how information is distributed and has an influence. A small number of people may read a particular blog, but the people who are reading often times are journalists or other opinion makers. Those people have an ability to take that information and redistribute it." Nevertheless, whether the Internet’s increasing influence and other coverage by alternative media can affect overall public perceptions about Iraq remains to be seen.

The conservative Media Research Center argues that TV news coverage of the war over the past five years has had a distinct liberal bias, trumpeting bad news while minimizing good news such as the success of the 2007 troop surge and acts of heroism by U.S. soldiers. Yet, in an excerpt from Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, authors Robert, Sam and Nat Parry show that the war represents not only an enormous human tragedy but also a systemic failure of US political and journalistic institutions.

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