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Saturday, December 22, 2007

Pew Research: 2007 Media Coverage was Pessimistic in Iraq

Bottom Line Up Front: Journalists in Iraq this year preferred bad news or no news at all.

The Pew Research Center is reporting on a study on how the press has covered events on the ground in Iraq in 2007. Here are some of the findings:

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.

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."

The bigger question may be not how the press interprets events but what
kinds of events get covered, especially by a press corps whose movements are
severely restricted in Iraq by the threat of attack and who are most mobile when
embedded with U.S. troops.

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.

The press itself believed it painted an accurate picture of Iraq, according to 70% of journalists. It's fair to say that many journalists are blind to their own bias.

The Counterinsurgency Manual co-written by GEN Petraeus says this about the media in counterinsurgency:

5-34. The media are ever present and influence perceptions of the COIN

1-12. The information environment is a critical dimension of such
internal wars, and insurgents attempt to shape it to their advantage. One way
they do this is by carrying out activities, such as suicide attacks, that may
have little military value but create fear and uncertainty within the populace
and government institutions. These actions are executed to attract high-profile
media coverage or local publicity and inflate perceptions of insurgent
capabilities. Resulting stories often include insurgent fabrications designed to
undermine the government’s legitimacy.

We can only hope the U.S. media overall didn't purposely try to assist the insurgents in their mission.

Cross-posted @: Bottom Line Up Front