The war-free news

Scrubbed clean?

We’ve been beating this horse for months, and it looks like things are hardly getting any better. Looking at the latest edition of the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s weekly roundup of top stories for the previous week, the long-term trend of sagging coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan continues apace.

During the week of June 3-8, the wars didn’t even crack the top five of cross-platform coverage. Overall, the 2008 campaign grabbed the top slot, with the immigration debate second, American/Russian relations third, the Scooter Libby verdict fourth, while the Paris Hilton saga came in at number five. Separating the media tells a similar story: The wars didn’t crack the top five most-covered stories either on the radio, cable tv or network tv, while it sneaked into the fifth spot online and came in third in newspapers.

I feel like this shouldn’t surprise me any more, but it does. With some 160,000 Americans fighting in Iraq, and another 20,000 in Afghanistan, and with the Iraq “surge” continuing to build, (and with American casualties rising as a result), it would seem like the war is pretty big news. The fact that it’s not is nothing short of a national disgrace. Granted, stories about the war—or at least the debate over the war—is folded into campaign coverage, which ranked first everywhere but online, that just isn’t good enough. While the days of the big, expensive Baghdad bureaus have come and gone, and most news organizations have little more than skeleton crews on the ground, the American press can still do better than this.

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