Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Real Media Story on Iraq

I've put up a fair number of entries covering public opinion on the Iraq war, but this entry from Wordsmith over at Sparks from the Anvil is excellent:

Curt writes:

brutally Honest wonders why this isn't front page news. I think we all know the answer to that one...
Yes, and the latest Pew Research Center findings, based upon a study of more than 1,100 news articles from January through October of 2007, confirms what we've pointed out on a regular basis:
Through the first 10 months of the year, the picture of Iraq that Americans received from the news media was, in considerable measure, a grim one. Roughly half of the reporting has consisted of accounts of daily violence. And stories that explicitly assessed the direction of the war have tended toward pessimism, according to a new study of press coverage of events on the ground in Iraq from January through October of 2007.

In what Defense Department statistics show to be the deadliest year so far for U.S. forces in Iraq, journalists have responded to the challenge of covering the continuing violence by keeping many of the accounts of these attacks brief and limiting the interpretation they contain.

As the year went on, the narrative from Iraq brightened in some ways. The drumbeat of reports about daily attacks declined in late summer and fall, and with that came a decline in the amount of coverage from Iraq overall.

This shift in coverage beginning in June, in turn, coincided with a rising sense among the American public that military efforts in Iraq were going "very" or "fairly well."

Amy Proctor cites a Pew research poll that charts how Americans have had a sense of improvement on Iraq. Although this seems to contradict a recent Gallup poll that states "Americans are generally negative on the status of the war right now", and that 6 in 10 Americans still want a timetable for withdrawal from Iraq, the survey also reveals that 71% of Americans believe Iraq will be better off as a result of the U.S.-led invasion and overthrow of Saddam's regime.

35% of Americans say the troops should stay until the job is done or until the United States wins, while 29% say the troops should be removed immediately. Eleven percent say the troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible, and 5% endorse a gradual withdrawal. About one in six Americans advise a specific time period -- 11% within the next year, 4% between one and two years, and 1% three years or longer.

Republicans and Democrats differ significantly in what they would advise the president and Congress to do about U.S. troops in Iraq: the vast majority of Republicans say the troops should stay until the job is done or until the United States wins, while Democrats most frequently say the troops should be removed immediately.

Amy Proctor also makes the following observation:

Essentially, as public opinion of the war shifted from a negative opinion to a more positive one by September 2007, the overall media coverage declined along with terrorist attacks.

You would expect the opposite to happen. That is, with a safer environment, more embedded reporters would be able to travel with the troops and more reporting made available to the public, whereas a volatile environment would accomodate fewer embedded journalists resulting in fewer stories. In reality, the opposite occurred.

Recall, from Michael Totten's Anbar Awakening Part II:

Violence has declined so sharply in Ramadi that few journalists bother to visit these days. It’s “boring,” most say, and it’s hard to get a story out there – especially for daily news reporters who need fresh scoops every day. Unlike most journalists, I am not a slave to the daily news grind and took the time to embed with the Army and Marines in late summer.

There is no good excuse for the way in which the media has reported, misreported, and misrepresented the story on Iraq. They, as much as the news itself, have shaped the war (and public opinion and perceptions of it) and become active participants in the course of events.

As I noted, I've put up a couple of pretty good entries of this variety (see here, here, and here), but Wordsmith's post here is a real beauty!


UPDATE: Don't miss this end-of-the-year posting extravaganza: Juan Cole's "Top Ten Myths about Iraq 2007," which is lauded by Andrew Sullivan, who in turn is eviscerated by Karl over at Protein Wisdom.