Has the Public Grown Tired of the Iraq War?
MADELEINE BRAND, host:
In Iraq today, U.S. and Iraqi military forces pushed further into the heart of the Sunni insurgent stronghold of Ramadi. Thirty-two-hundred families have reportedly fled the city.
ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Also, last week in Baghdad, insurgents murdered four Russian diplomats they'd kidnapped. Today, Russian president, Vladimir Putin, ordered Russian Special Forces to hunt down the killers and destroy them.
BRAND: On a brighter note, Iraqi prime minister Nouri al-Maliki confirmed that several insurgent groups have contacted his office. They are responding to his national reconciliation plan unveiled on Sunday.
CHADWICK: There is more Iraq news, but perhaps you've stopped processing what we've already told you. At least that is what many news managers are thinking. The day-to-day Iraq news is not as headline-worthy as it used to be, and overall coverage is down. NPR's Mike Pesca looks at the issue of Iraq fatigue and asks if the media has the right read on news consumers.
MIKE PESCA, reporting:
Bombing, shooting, explosions, sectarian insurgent roadside death - words that were once the stuff of attention-grabbing headlines, are now enough to drive away the news consumer, who has been hearing stories like this since the war began, and feels that by now, he gets it. Yesterday, in front of the New York Public Library, Steven Jones(ph) was reading a newspaper, but his eyes did not linger on any story with the word Iraq in the title.
Mr. STEVEN JONES (library patron): There's bad news and I just can't read about it anymore. I mean everyday, you know, the death and destruction and murder.
PESCA: Jones followed the news at the start of the war, but now the devastation just sort of melds together for him. Devon Storino(ph) was also on the steps of the library leafing through a free daily. She says she doesn't want to read stories which depress her and just confirm her fairly strong anti-war opinion.
Ms. DEVON STORINO (library patron): I don't like the international news. I don't like to read about the war and all that stuff because it's bad. So I just like to read the fluffy stuff, human interest stuff.
PESCA: Do you get war news at all, even whether you want it or not?
Ms. Stornio: Yes, I do. MSN, when you turn on, or at work when we turn on the internet, it's the first page, the home page, so. And it's like right there in your face.
PESCA: News editors are struggling with the same old story from Iraq as well. A couple of weeks ago, The Chicago Tribune's public editor, tallied the number of front page Iraq stories from major U.S. papers. The Tribune itself has run 41 Iraq stories in the first months of this year, 74 in the same period as 2005, 138 articles in the same period of 2004. The New York Times, Boston Globe, USA Today and Washington Post all ran about half the number of Iraq stories on their front pages this year as they had in the same period in 2004. Jim Warren is The Tribune's deputy managing editor. He knows the Iraq story must be covered in the paper.
Mr. JIM WARREN (Deputy Managing Editor, The Chicago Tribune): But as someone who occasionally will run our page one meetings and decide what goes out there, you know, I will concede that sometimes you can hear about a car bombing and there is a sameness to it all. And you wonder, okay, what's this going to add to tomorrow's coverage? Does this deserve to be put on page one? And sometimes now, you say no.
PESCA: Eric Romanski(ph) reads five papers a day for the slate.com column, Today's Papers, and can't avoid noticing, and questioning, the fall-off in news coverage of Iraq.
Mr. ERIC ROMANSKI (Slate.com): It's not an easy problem. It's not, you know, gee, they should be putting all these bombings on page one. Yours is sort of a new normal problem. You know, what do you do if there's one bombing in Baghdad a year? That bombing is big news. If there are, you know, 100 bombings in a three-month period, well each of those bombings isn't big news in themselves. But the sort of irony is those (unintelligible) are actually far bigger news.
PESCA: TV network news has experienced a steady decline in the volume of coverage since Andrew Tindle(ph), publisher of The Tindle Report, which monitors TV news.
Mr. ANDREW TINDLE (Publisher, The Tindle Report): 2003, the three networks on the nightly newscasts had around 4,000 minutes on Iraq. In 2004, 3,000. In 2005, 2,000.
PESCA: Tindle and the Tribune's Jim Warren concede that the danger in Baghdad makes it hard for reporters to get out and track down fresh stories and unusual angles. Tindle thinks that difficulty, more than some corporate dictate about ratings explains the lack of coverage. He does say, however, that Iraq is no longer good for ratings.
Mr. TINDLE: I know that the days when you would put Iraq on the news in order to increase ratings, are long gone. It's only when a successful war is going on that such a story will actually attract viewers to your networks.
PESCA: But the Pew Center for the Study of the People and the Press asks Americans every month how closely they've been following the Iraq story. For the past two years, the percentage should stay very closely or fairly closely, has always been around 80 percent. Maybe that's just what they tell pollsters. Or maybe, with this trying war that puts Americans in harm's way, story fatigue and interest have to exist side-by-side. Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.