PEJ Study Won’t End Partisan Bickering…

But it does reinforce our belief that there isn't enough coverage of the troops in Iraq

While it is unlikely to change anyone’s mind about what stories the press should cover in Iraq, or the endless, politicized criticisms from the right over “biased” reporting on the war, the Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study this morning of more than 1,100 Iraq stories from January through October by forty different news outlets.

As we’ve seen in other studies the amount of coverage of events on the ground in Iraq—particularly coverage of what American troops are doing on a day-to-day basis—could be better. Much better. Almost 47 percent of the stories that ran in the first ten months of this year focused on daily violence—suicide bombings, car bombings, bodies dumped in the street—that have recently declined dramatically. And those stories, according to PEJ, were straight pieces of reporting about the violence, and as such drew no larger conclusions about the incident, or how it fits into the overall picture of what is happening in Iraq.

The other half of the coverage, or 53 percent of the stories, dealt with U.S. activities in Iraq. And here’s where critics of the media’s work will have a field day. Only 0.5 percent of those stories focused on “U.S. Soldiers Helping People,” with the same percentage given to “Iran’s Involvement” in Iraq. That’s a remarkably small number, given the good work that the troops are doing when and where they can, and the evidence that Iran is helping arm and fund various elements inside Iraq.

Taking the big picture into account, one of the most striking findings of the study was the paltry coverage Iraq has been given in general:

From January through June, coverage from Iraq made up 8% of all the stories (and 7% of the newshole) in the Project’s ongoing index of news coverage. From July through September, coverage from Iraq made up 5% of the stories (representing 5% of the newshole). The numbers spiked back up in October to 7% of all stories.

War coverage fell from a pathetic 8 to 5 percent mostly due to a decline in the amount of coverage of daily violence, PEJ states. “Through June, 51% of all the stories focused on the issue of continuing violence. From July through October, that number fell to 38%.” While we surely all agree that the daily violence, and its recent diminishment, is a story that needs to be covered, it would be nice if reporters started covering what the 160,000-plus American troops are doing there on a daily basis, too.

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Paul McLeary is senior editor of Defense Technology International magazine, and is a former CJR staffer.