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September 8, 2010
The Theater of War (part three)By Greyhawk
A brief review from part one:
As noted then, the purpose of this series is to examine why the American public's perception of Iraq was so far divorced from the reality on the ground. In part two we looked at the media's own characterization of their coverage through the period of the rapid decline in American combat deaths (and other indicators of violence in Iraq) - the "red section" of the chart above - from the initial announcement of the surge in early 2007...
...I think one thing the press has done is they've learned many lessons during this war. You've had a lot of people on the ground in Iraq. You have people who understand this war at a very basic level. And I think the American public understands this war. And when you have the president coming out and saying things that the public may feel they've heard before and that the press can fact check -- I mean, I remember -- I watched that speech and thought, wait a minute, I remember this happened the first time, or, wait a minute, that happened the second time......to the October, 2007 coverage of the results of successful operations throughout the summer and early fall of that year:
But not only was that enduring progress, the same trends were indeed specifically reflected in declining numbers other than US troop deaths:
Still, as noted previously, 60% of Americans believed the war in Iraq was going poorly - a measure of the power of media coverage to influence perceptions in America. But (as depicted in the graphs at left) the lines were converging.
For consistency it would be correct to continue our examination of this topic using the media's own analysis of their coverage of Iraq, but a funny thing happened as we moved forward into that orange section on the charts above and violence levels didn't return to high levels - media coverage of Iraq disappeared.
Currently, just 16% of Americans name the Iraq war as the news story that first comes to mind when asked what has been in the news lately. In December and January, a period when U.S. policy toward Iraq and President Bush's troop surge drew extensive news coverage, far greater numbers named the Iraq war as the first story that came to mind.As to whether the press was driving the public interest or vice-versa,
The diminished press coverage of Iraq is an important factor in the falloff in news interest, given that most Americans say they "come across" war news without looking for it, rather than seeking out news about the Iraq war. Overall, 75% of the public says they come across news about the war when they are not actively seeking it out, compared with just 20% who say they go looking for war news.(Keep that last bit in mind as you read on.) Still, "a growing number of Americans say news organizations are devoting too little, rather than too much, coverage to the war," Pew reported. And the coverage Americans were getting wasn't the coverage they wanted:
The media response to the public's wishes was obvious by January, 2008:
Moving forward, we turn to the June/July 2008 issue of American Journalism Review for our next update. Their story, headlined "Whatever Happened to Iraq? How the media lost interest in a long-running war with no end in sight" noted that cable network coverage of Iraq had fallen to just one percent of their overall news coverage - and the story had vanished from print media, too.
A daily tracking of 65 newspapers by the Associated Press confirms a dip in page-one play throughout the country. In September 2007, the AP found 457 Iraq-related stories (154 by the AP) on front pages, many related to a progress report delivered to Congress by Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. commander in Iraq. Over the succeeding months, that number fell to as low as 49.One of the reasons the Los Angeles Times' foreign editor cited for the decline:
With no solutions in sight, with no light at the end of the tunnel, war fatigue has become a factor. Over the years, a bleak sameness has settled into accounts of suicide bombings and brutal sectarian violence.
Perhaps stories that didn't involve suicide bombers weren't newsworthy. But let's roll back to the autumn of 2007 - when the 2008 election season was getting underway, and Iraq was still the key issue in America. As evidenced by the October, 2007 quotes above (another celebratory example from that time: "We had brave correspondents bringing us the carnage night after night, into our living rooms, what was going one Iraq. And you had the anchors framing the story in such a way that it really punched through") the media narrative had diverged so far from the reality on the ground in Iraq that the only options available at that time were to acknowledge the disparity or drop coverage of Iraq nearly altogether. (In other words, ignore the progress and hope it went away...) For the American media that was really no choice at all - as demonstrated above the decision was obvious, and later attempts to explain it away (or blame the public's 'lack of interest') should be obviously absurd.
The "no solutions in sight, no light at the end of the tunnel" quote would prove especially ironic in June/July 2008, as the American combat death toll in Iraq fell (from 123 in May the previous year) to 8 in July, marking the end of the "orange" phase and the beginning of the next era (the blue shaded area in the chart below) of American operations there.
At this point, Army tour lengths were reduced to pre-surge duration, and negotiations on the Status of Forces Agreement, the document that established the drawdown trajectory continuing in Iraq today, also began in earnest.
But with 75% of Americans saying they only received war news by chance, the media's silent treatment proved highly effective in controlling the population's overall perception of the war in Iraq.
According to Pew Research's poll (click chart above for larger version) , the majority of Americans were still convinced the military effort in Iraq was not going well. (And the number who felt the military effort was going 'not at all well' was double the number who responded 'very well'.)
In all polls (click pollster.com chart at left for larger version), the positive trend in opinions on whether or not the war was going well evident throughout the latter half of 2007 was flat-lined through the first half of 2008.
Back to the American Journalism Review for one more explanation for the decline in Iraq coverage that year:
"We have a woman, an African American and a senior running for president," Miller says. "That is a very big story."
It isn't what she meant, but the woman and the African American were both running on a platform of failure in and withdrawal from Iraq; the truth would not have served them well.
And more to follow here. Meanwhile, previously in this series:
Posted by Greyhawk / September 8, 2010 8:00 AM | Permalink
Continuing a discussion begun here. Here's our combined Iraq "violence chart" from the previous entry (click the graphic for a larger version): Two points can't be denied: Enemy attacks ("security incidents"), along with deaths of Iraqi civilians and A... Read More
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
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