The Forgotten War

The Project for Excellence in Journalism released its weekly News Coverage Index—which, among other things, ranks the week’s top ten news stories—today. And missing from the top ten news items, overall—across newspapers, online news, network TV, cable TV, and radio—was any mention of the Iraq war. Or of Iraq more generally.

As the Musings on Iraq blog points out (h/t E&P Pub), that absence is nothing new.

For the first time since 2002 Iraq did not reach the top 10 news stories in America according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. For the four weeks from March 2 to 29, 2009 Iraq did not reach the top ten once.

Which doesn’t mean the war garnered no coverage at all; rather, its meager coverage was so dispersed across platforms that it failed to make an overall impact on the national news hole. Musings on Iraq narrates the coverage-by-platform breakdown:

For March 2 to 8, Iraq only reached number 6 on the radio, but was absent from the other outlets. That week the news was on the withdrawal of U.S. troops. The next week, March 9-15, Iraq was number 5 and 10 in newspapers, and number eight online, but didn’t rank on any other form of media. The sentencing of Muntader al-Ziadi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President Bush, and Saddam Hussein’s former Foreign Minister Tariq Azziz occurred then, along with some mass casualty bombings. From March 16 to 22, the war got into the newspapers at Number 6, and network TV at number 7, and number 10 on Cable TV, but that wasn’t enough to crack the overall top 10. That week former Vice President Cheney claimed success in Iraq in an interview on CNN’s State of the Union, and it was the 6th anniversary of the U.S. invasion. In the last week of the month Iraq was number 8 in the newspapers and network TV. The arrest of a Sons of Iraq leader in Baghdad, followed by a shootout with Iraqi forces marked that period.

At least we’re getting something. But, then, consider a few of the stories that did make it to PEJ’s top ten list, in the Iraq war’s place, over the past month: Oakland Police Officers Killed, Natasha Richardson Dies, and…Rush Limbaugh.

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Megan Garber is an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University. She was formerly a CJR staff writer.