From Iraq to ‘08

It’s always intriguing to take a look at media outlets and their coverage during wartime. But with a pivotal election approaching and an unpopular war raging, how are the media balancing their coverage? From April through June, The Project for Excellence in Journalism monitored 48 news outlets – a mix of newspapers, cable news shows, Web sites, radio shows, the nightly news (broadcast) and morning shows. Not only does their study provide a glimpse into the overall frame of coverage offered by American media outlets, but it also provides information on differences in content among specified news sources.

“As in the first quarter, CNN and MSNBC each devoted about twice as much time to the war as their cable competitor Fox News Channel…MSNBC stood apart in giving twice as much time to the presidential campaign as the other two.”

Among the plethora of findings, The New York Times slates “the fall-off in war reports” to be one of the most important (as do I). According to The Times, the first few months of the year left the media drenched with stories about Iraq and the funding debate that was then raging between Bush and the Democratic Congress. After Congress agreed to provide funding, the war reports dwindled.

According to The Times:

“Coverage of events in Iraq and their consequences in the United States, like the return of wounded soldiers, held steady”

Cable networks actually devoted less time to events in Iraq than did other news outlets, and much more to the debate in Washington (during the first few months of 2007). One might wonder if budgets and accessibility play a role in decisions regarding what should be covered.

To mirror The Times, it’s an easier process to cover internal debate (i.e. heading to Capital Hill to interview and interact with key policy players); on the flip side, it’s more expensive and increasingly complicated to cover ground events in Iraq. So, when the media saw an opportunity to cover solid governmental debate, they quickly jumped at it. But when it ended – it seems they quickly turned to the election (another easy access internal “battle”).

What is very surprising is the fact that the 2008 election was the most-covered story in the second quarter – and we’re still over a year away! It’s intriguing that the pre-campaign extravaganza would take Iraq’s place, but it’s quite possible that our nation (and her media outlets) is simply ready for something new, as most will contend that “war exhaustion” set in long ago.