Iraq vs. Afghanistan: Which war gets more U.S. news coverage?

Iraq vs. Afghanistan: Which war gets more U.S. news coverage?

In an FP piece Monday, Morton Abramowitz argued that the U.S. media have been too soft in covering the shift in policy toward the war in Afghanistan, and that the war in general has received too little scrutiny. 

The article made me wonder if there had been an increase in coverage of Afghanistan since the presidential inauguration of Barack Obama, given his professed focus not to lose there and his changes in policy.

Fortunately, the Pew Research Center’s Project on Excellence in Journalism [PEJ] keeps weekly tallies of which topics are covered in the U.S. media, or as they call it, the “newshole.” In one interesting graph, they show how much less coverage of Iraq there is now than two years ago.

At my request, the wonderful people at PEJ provided their raw data on how much coverage Iraq and Afghanistan were getting as a percentage of the “newshole” over the last year. Using my extraordinarily rudimentary Excel chart skills, I decided to examine if much had changed since President Obama was inaugurated and started implementing changes in policy.

The short answer is: not a lot. Although there are occasional spikes, the total coverage of Afghanistan jumps over 5 percent only once, in July, corresponding with a major offensive in Helmand under the newly appointed command of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. And the average is low. From January through July, Afghanistan received an average of 1.92 percent of coverage, while Iraq got 2.01 percent.

That Afghanistan and Iraq are now nearly equal in coverage is a change. From June-December 2008, Iraq averaged 3.26 percent and Afghanistan 1.17 precent. Still, with the amount of U.S. taxpayer money going into both places, and the amount of reconstruction funds wasted, one has to wonder about the low percentage devoted to both wars. The sad part is, even if average media consumers were more interested, which they are not, only a few huge media outlets could afford to cover the wars constantly, and most of them are already losing money anyway.

A bigger version of the chart is viewable here.

Michael Wilkerson is a researcher at
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