The South Asia Channel

Afghanistan vs. Iraq media coverage, the redux

In today’s New America Foundation/Foreign Policy launch event for the AfPak Channel (which you can watch live here at 12:15 p.m., though registration is now closed), Peter Bergen, Steve Coll, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran will be talking about what it’s like to report from the region that U.S. President Barack Obama has made the focal point ...

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In today's New America Foundation/Foreign Policy launch event for the AfPak Channel (which you can watch live here at 12:15 p.m., though registration is now closed), Peter Bergen, Steve Coll, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran will be talking about what it's like to report from the region that U.S. President Barack Obama has made the focal point of his foreign policy agenda: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama's focus contrasts starkly with his predecessor's, who concentrated mostly on the war in Iraq. I wondered, in light of the difference, what has really changed in the way the media covers these two wars since Obama took office on January 20.

In today’s New America Foundation/Foreign Policy launch event for the AfPak Channel (which you can watch live here at 12:15 p.m., though registration is now closed), Peter Bergen, Steve Coll, and Rajiv Chandrasekaran will be talking about what it’s like to report from the region that U.S. President Barack Obama has made the focal point of his foreign policy agenda: Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Obama’s focus contrasts starkly with his predecessor’s, who concentrated mostly on the war in Iraq. I wondered, in light of the difference, what has really changed in the way the media covers these two wars since Obama took office on January 20.

Fortunately, my Foreign Policy colleague Michael Wilkerson has already picked up on this, and was kind enough to send me the latest batch of raw data from the good people at the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism, who track how much coverage various topics get weekly as a percentage of the total, which they call the “newshole.”

The short answer as to how much has changed is: a little, as Michael observed last month. Afghanistan is slowly gaining ground on Iraq: since the first week of August, Afghanistan has gotten about four times the total coverage as Iraq has, and the percentage of the newshole devoted to Afghanistan peaked during the week of the August 20 presidential election at 10.2 percent. And coverage also bumped up a little during the week of Obama’s March 27 Afghanistan/Pakistan strategy speech.

From the beginning of June 2008 until last week, Afghanistan averaged 1.97 percent of the newshole, compared to Iraq’s 2.51 percent. But if you only look at the time period that Obama’s been in office, Afghanistan jumps up to 2.93 percent, versus Iraq’s 2.06 percent. Obama’s foreign policy focus has accordingly apparently dictated a slight uptick in the amount of U.S. media coverage devoted to Afghanistan — though the total still remains under three percent. A larger version of the chart is available here.

The American Journalism Review has an excellent survey of how Obama’s focus on Afghanistan and Pakistan has led many big news outlets to ramp up their correspondents’ reporting on and from the region, which I highly recommend. I also recommend tuning in to our event today; Peter Bergen and Rajiv Chandrasekaran are both recently back from big reporting trips to the region, with Rajiv breaking the news that the NATO airstrike in Kunduz that killed as many as 125 including several dozen civilians was based largely on a single Afghan intelligence source, and Peter corresponding for CNN’s Anderson Cooper 360 from Helmand province.

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