The secret war in Iraq


It was an odd day in American journalism today. A story about the war in Iraq made the front page. “Report rips post-surge planning for Iraq,” said the Pioneer Press. “Progress in Iraq, but it’s tenuous, U.S. audits find,” said the Star Tribune. Of course, both stories about Iraq did not come from Iraq.

What’s going on in Iraq? Good luck finding out.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism found that “In the first three months of 2008, coverage of the campaign outstripped coverage of the war by a margin of nearly 11-to-one (43% of the newshole compared to 4%). In an environment in which newsroom cutbacks and decreasing resources may make it more difficult for news outlets to stay atop two ongoing mega-stories, the media, for now, have made their priorities clear.”

On this morning’s Midmorning, MPR’s Kerri Miller tried — mightily — to find out why this is.

“The campaign has taken up the news hole,” one guest said. But how’s this for circular reasoning? According to the tens of thousands — 669,916 as of this morning — of people who have taken MPR’s Select A Candidate, it is ranked as the most important issue of the campaign. So how can the most important issue of the campaign not be covered because journalists are too busy covering the campaign?

David Folkenflik, National Public Radio media correspondent, responded to Kerri asking why she’s not hearing Anne Garrels on the air much anymore (side note: Has it really been five years since she did her media tour through the Twin Cities?) by saying it’s too dangerous for reporters to go out, something that doesn’t seem to be stopping Leila Fadel, the Baghdad bureau chief for McClatchy Newspapers.

The excuses continued to the frustration, I’m guessing, of most listeners. One suggested that because Americans haven’t been asked to sacrifice, they’re not interested in the war. But don’t 99.4% (that’s an actual statistic!) of the people who rated it on Select A Candidate as important or very important tell us that’s not it, either?

Finally, Sean Aday, a professor of media and public affairs and international affairs at George Washington University, offered this: Once the surge started working (At least in terms of reduced violence, many of the goals of the surge have not been met), Democrats stopped talking about it.

And reporters stopped asking.

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