According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)
CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.
Paul Friedman, a senior vice president at CBS News, said the news division does not get reports from Iraq on television “with enough frequency to justify keeping a very, very large bureau in Baghdad.” He said CBS correspondents can “get in there very quickly when a story merits it.”
Hilzoy notes that 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage equals two minutes per network, per week.
The Times article does note that coverage of Afghanistan is up, though the numbers are still pathetic.
Coverage of the war in Afghanistan has increased slightly this year, with 46 minutes of total coverage year-to-date compared with 83 minutes for all of 2007. NBC has spent 25 minutes covering Afghanistan, partly because the anchor Brian Williams visited the country earlier in the month. Through Wednesday, when an ABC correspondent was in the middle of a prolonged visit to the country, ABC had spent 13 minutes covering Afghanistan. CBS has spent eight minutes covering Afghanistan so far this year.
Read that again. “CBS has spent eight minutes covering Afghanistan so far this year.” Listen, if you’re a news producer or executive at a major television network, you have to be governed by this rule: for the sake of the nation, news content cannot be determined exclusively by what viewers want to see, or what you think viewers want to see. Call it elitist if you must, but consider just how ugly and worthless television news becomes when it gets carried away with a story it thinks viewers can’t get enough of (cough cough Anna Nicole Smith cough). The fact that television coverage isn’t dominated by salacious stories about whores and murderers, and the fact that there are stories like this one and this one, suggests that news producers do grasp this. They know they must find stories that inform and sometimes inspire the public. They just lose the right balance on occasion.
In this particular instance, they’ve lost that balance for the entire duration of 2008.
Update: I’ll add this note as a pre-buttal to anyone who was planning on heading to the comments section with claims that MoJoBlog has greatly decreased its coverage of the Iraq War over the last few months. In response: (1) While it’s true we don’t cover the conditions on the ground in Iraq, we’ve never used this space as a running tally of bombings and skirmishes. We’ve reported instead on ancillary issues, like fraud and contractors, which we’ve continued to do despite the lack of attention from the TV media. (2) The decision-making by media outlets with the most resources influences the content of the media outlets with less. That is to say, as a blog that can’t afford to station someone in Baghdad permanently, we’re reliant on the networks and the major papers for news reports that we can then analyze, contextualize, and comment upon. If they don’t create the content, the well dries up for everyone.