Uncovering Iraq Coverage

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

Iraq has been one of the top news stories for more than four years now. Some days, that's a major political development or massive suicide bombing... others, it's a smaller, more incremental development. But either way, it's an important story, that every media outlet struggles to cover, and keep their audience interested. Which isn't always so easy. Some people complain that coverage is biased, or focuses too much on the negative. Or, that there is too much coverage of the war. There are also those who argue the media reports on too much fluff, and not enough on the fighting and Iraq policy. The Project for Excellence in Journalism tracks all the numbers on how much the media covers Iraq, and what kind of stories they report.

The war in Iraq has dwarfed all other topics in the American news media in the early months of 2007, taking up more than three times the space devoted to the next most popular subject. But only a portion of this has focused on the state of things in Iraq itself, and even less about the plight of Iraqis and the internal affairs of their country, according to a new study of the American news media.

The majority of the war coverage, 55%, has been about the political debate back in Washington. Less than a third, 31%, has been focused on events in Iraq itself. And about half that coverage has been about American soldiers there.
In all, just one in six stories about the war has been focused on Iraqis, Iraqi casualties or the internal political affairs of their country, the report finds, while more than eight in ten have focused primarily on Americans or American policy.

The details are all here. And we wanted to find out how major news organizations make their decisions about Iraq coverage, so we called on two decision makers... Rick Kaplan, the Executive Producer of the CBS Evening News, and Marjorie Miller, the Foreign Desk Editor at the Los Angeles Times will be here. What do you think the media gets right in their Iraq coverage? What could they do better? And, if you have questions for any of the guests, post them here, too...



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

One of the most troubling aspects of some media coverage for me has been an infantalization of Iraqis: That they need our guidance in creating their nation, effectively, that we must parent them into adulthood. I find documentary films, such as Iraq in Fragments or My Country, My Country, highly enlightening in conveying the Iraqi population as real people. Much of news reporting is focused on deaths and politics, but perhaps our nation might learn and understand the current situation more if our news were to take a different methodology and focus on more people's lives and perspectives.

Sent by Kate Donalek | 2:19 PM | 8-7-2007

The best Iraq story I've heard was something I heard a while ago (possibly ~1 year?) on NPR (don't remember which show specifically).

It was about an American who worked in the pentagon (I believe), in the office where they basically decided where they should bomb. He had to consider civilian casualties and other factors and make the decision on whether the potential benefits outweighed those factors. After the story explained that, it went on to follow this man on a trip to Iraq where he visited the site of a bombing, and met the family/friends/neighbors of civilian casualties.

This is why I think that story was great: It considered the American side and the Iraqi side of the same event, and it showed the personal level of such a conflict while also discussing the larger policy issues at hand. I believe the mass media's "US-centric" presentation of stories is inadequate to inform the public. I'm not saying they aren't telling the truth, but a "lie by omission" is as serious as mistruth, and in that way, the general public gets mislead.

Matty Jeronimo - Portland, OR

[if you want to discuss any of that on the air, feel free to paraphrase or just take part of it, it ended up being longer than I intended]

Sent by Matty Jeronimo | 2:20 PM | 8-7-2007

So NPR-the last holdout of educated radio-has succumbed to using the word "media" as a singular. You know it's plural-please use it correctly.

Sent by Jim Troyan | 2:26 PM | 8-7-2007

One of the guests just mentioned that he thinks the deaths in Iraq went down last month. They did, but it's relative.

Jan 07, 83; Feb and March 07, 81; April 07, 104; May 07, 126; June 07, 101; July 07, 80.

However, in July 05, 54; July 06, 43; July 07, 80.

I'm concerned that coverage is affected too much by the assumptions of the press and too little by the facts.

Sent by Mary B | 2:29 PM | 8-7-2007

I would like to know why, with all the information that you can find on the internet that is related to this war on terror, tv, radio or newspapers outlets do not report on possible ties that the U.S. (Bush/Cheney)might have instigated the war just for their own corrupt intrests. Regardless of what we hear or see, the world will NEVER trully know the truth from all the false reporting that is fed us.

I wish some news worthy outlet were courageous enough to feed us the truth.

Sent by James Castillo | 2:31 PM | 8-7-2007

i wonder why there hasn't been more coverage on private contractors. we've heard lots of plans about when the troops will pull out, size of residual forces, etc. but what about all those private contractors (lots of them former soldiers doing the same thing they did in the army but for a lot more money with private companies). will we privatize the occupation after we "leave"?

Sent by steve buttes - chicago | 2:41 PM | 8-7-2007

Yesterday,NPR did a story on almost 200,000 weapons that went missing in Iraq while under General Patraeus' watch. Since he is seen as the possible saviour for this mission, should we be hearing more coverage of this story?

Sent by Bobbie Spiegelman | 2:42 PM | 8-7-2007

Why is the network evening news only a half-hour? There's so much to report, so much more depth needed! Our local news is an hour and a half (from 5-6:30)and always has too much fluff....again repeated at 11:00. We need an hour of national news!

Sent by kim gellatly | 2:44 PM | 8-7-2007

Here is a chance for the media leaders to listen to listener responses. But Neil keeps letting his guests cut the callers off and allowing them to go on and on defensively. Are we to conclude that Talk of the Nation is not interested in listening when the topic is its self.

Sent by john | 2:45 PM | 8-7-2007

I have heard many of the soldiers in Iraq and returning from that war indicating that do not see Americans sacrificing as they are and I agree but I have not heard a reporter ask what type of sacrifice they would like americans to undertake. Also, I have been disappointed in the coverage of the soldiers' death. Citing a number of dead at the end of the day does not serve their sacrifice much justice. Why has no one challenged the executive order (I think) prohibiting the media showing the caskets coming home. To me at least seeing the casket shows the ultimate sacrifice they give.

Sent by Mary Schaffner | 2:46 PM | 8-7-2007

The media's vision seems so myopic, being American
it can't step beyond itself to view us as occupiers-thus
logical targets in Iraq. They do not look at Iraq's history or our own, the Blackwater Army, the Iraqi casualties caused by non-surgical air strikes all beg

Sent by Bruce | 2:47 PM | 8-7-2007

The news people give themselves away when they say the surge is working. Oh really? Tell us more how "the surge" and the John Wayne-ness of General Patraeus have gotten Sunnis and Shiites and Kurds to bury the hatchet, put aside their eons of hatred and live together in peace. You can't, because the idea of "the surge" working is preposterous. What the news does very well is to regurgitate Pentagon press releases, and they give us little more than that.

Sent by Mike | 2:50 PM | 8-7-2007

The press has been in bed with the administration from the start of the war. And when they dare to critisize the the supporters of the war the admin complains and they run and hide. It is their job to tell the hard truths, not to peddle propaganda to gain access to the power brokers. They have so corrupted themselves and their profession that it is hard for anyone to believe them now when they are selling the "surge is working" story. It seems that this is just more feel good propaganda from the Republican Media Wranglers.

Sent by George from Oregon | 2:56 PM | 8-7-2007

At the very end of this discussion (which I was listening to as I was working so I don't recall who made the comment)was the statement that the American public was in favor of this war at the outset. I must object. I was vehemently against it at the outset and I still believe it is just as wrong now. There was no legitimate reason, beyond what was cooked up by the administration, for being in Iraq, bombing, invading, and now occupying a foreign country.

My heart goes out to those unfortunate souls who suffer at the hands of Mr. Bush et al. But I have never, nor will I ever, support this war.

Sent by Jennie Houts | 3:03 PM | 8-7-2007

It should be no surprise the surge is "working" from day one many said we needed MORE troops.

Sent by jimimac | 1:13 AM | 8-8-2007

I was enraged by the beuracratic demeanor of both Majorie Miller and Rick Kaplan. To tag the stories of emotional and physical carnage of returning soldiers as "homefront stories" demeans everyone. No one on the program addressed the ratings impact of news organizations reporting more on the pain of our soldiers and their families. As a nation, we have only so much emotional energy to devote to Iraq. Reminding ourselves every day of the real horror to all affected would not sell papers and it would change TV channels. As much as American does not support the war, we share a collective guilt for putting Bush in office and letting him run riot with his pet project. Being brutally reminded day after day while we stand by and feel helpless is too painful. Let's focus on Lindsay Lohan for a little while.

Sent by Anthony Quaglieri | 6:01 PM | 8-8-2007

At the end of the program, a guest stated that there was little protest to the Iraq war because there is no draft. Partly true, but consider the tactics used against peace workers: no fly list, tax audit, email spying, changes in law regarding free speach, incarceration, and due process under Homeland Security. The press does not report dissent. or peaceful protest. The flag waving opposition at peace events is hateful and scarey. We are accused of not supporting the troops, who are our families too. In July an Executive Order gave the administration power to freeze assets of any person or entity considered to be "undermining" efforts to stabilize Iraq. People are afraid to protest!

Sent by susan foster | 6:36 PM | 8-9-2007

Support comes from: