Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Media at War

"Sometimes, you go to war with the media you have, not the one you wish you had."

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 Eleven percent say the troops should be withdrawn as soon as possible, and 5% endorse a gradual withdrawal.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 PtII:

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.

In Hog Pilots, Blue Water Grunts, Robert Kaplan writes:
[Robert] Sherrod [Time-Life war correspondent], like other correspondents of the era, keeps using the words "we" and "our" when referring to the American side, for although a journalist, he was a fellow American living among the troops. Back in Honolulu a week after the battle, he found the naïveté of the home front toward Tarawa "amazing". The public saw the killing of so many troops in so few days as scandalous. There were rumblings in Congress about an intelligence failure, and vows that such a thing must not happen again. But as Sherrod argues, there was no easy way to win many wars (in fact, eight months later, the first day of fighting on Guam would claim nearly seven hundred marines dead, wounded, or missing). Thus, "to deprecate the Tarawa victory was almost to defame the memory of the gallant men who lost their lives achieving it." He concludes that on Tarawa, in 1943, "there was a more realistic approach to war than there was in the United States." [Chapter One, Pg. 27]
Instead of the Sherrods of yesteryear, we get this, this and this.

Other findings in the Pew Research Center study:

  • Daily accounts of violence made up 47% of all stories studied during the first 10 months of 2007. But because many of these stories were short, that represented just 27% of the time and space-or newshole-of the coverage studied.

  • Through June, more than half of all stories studied were about violent incidents, but that number fell to roughly one third in September and October.

  • Just more than half (56%) of the stories that offered a clear assessment of where things in Iraq were headed were pessimistic, but that coverage was more skeptical of the Iraqi government and the stability of the country than it was of U.S. policy.

  • Stories assessing the effectiveness of U.S. policy-including the surge-more often than not were neither distinctly positive nor negative in the message they conveyed. Four in ten offered a mixed assessment, while a third were pessimistic and a quarter saw things as improving.

  • A separate analysis of coverage in November, beyond the time frame of the main study, indicates that during that month positive assessments of the surge began to rise.

  • The coverage overall was U.S. centric in subject matter. About half of all the coverage from Iraq was about the American military and U.S. officials. Roughly another 10% was about private contractors, mostly Blackwater.

  • Coverage of Iraqi civilians, by contrast, made up far less, 3% of stories and 5% of overall newshole.

  • Despite enormous difficulty in getting access to sources, Americans did get a wide range of perspectives. Fully 40% of stories (representing 61% of the newshole) carried the views of multiple of types of stakeholders.

Also blogging:
American Thinker
Bottomline Upfront

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Blogger WomanHonorThyself said...

hiya Word..its so comforting to focus on our strengths instead of weaknesses I must say..but the media won't join that party no matter what kind of invitation they receive~!

Sunday, December 23, 2007 5:42:00 PM  
Anonymous Americaneocon said...

That's the best recent commentary I've read on mass media, public opinion, and the war.

Excellent work!

American Power

Sunday, December 23, 2007 6:18:00 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

Very good reporting and commentary Word. I've come to expect such excellence from you. What we need in the media is a majority of the reporters to want to report things as straightforward as you do.

Monday, December 24, 2007 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...


The media loves the glass to be half full. But "if it bleeds, it leads" isn't good enough to explain away all of the imbalance in news reporting.


Thank you! Mostly blockquoting, though. Minimal commentary.


Thanks for the compliment.

What we need in the media is a majority of the reporters to want to report things as straightforward as you do.

Er...I'm actually rather partisan, don't you think? Center-right extremist, remember? Lol.

Monday, December 24, 2007 12:46:00 AM  

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