Lesson number one; never trust the corporate press to accurately report our illegal wars.
The latest figures from the US media are depressing and reflect the unhealthy tendency to base coverage of war zones around Washington’s dictates. Obama says the Iraq war is winding down (even though the occupation continues) so we better move to the new battlefield, Afghanistan. Like sheep:
A recent headline atop New York magazine repeated a question asked by dozens of opinion writers this year — and last year, and the year before — “Why Are We in Afghanistan?”
The questions reflect the complex nature of the Afghan war, and of the news coverage.
The grueling war there, where a day rarely goes by without an allied casualty, is like a faint heartbeat, accounting for just 4 percent of the nation’s news coverage in major outlets through early December, according to a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, an arm of the Pew Research Center.
That is down slightly from last year, when the war accounted for 5 percent.
“It’s never passed the threshold to be a big story week in, week out for Americans,” said Mark Jurkowitz, the associate director of the project.
One senior foreign correspondent for television, when told of the 4 percent coverage figure, said he was impressed — given the relatively small contingent of foreign journalists in Afghanistan.
The study started in 2007. In that year, Afghanistan — which was a relatively low-grade conflict at the time, with many fewer allied causalities — accounted for only 1 percent of the nation’s news coverage. The same held true in 2008. The coverage picked up markedly at the end of 2009, when Mr. Obama conducted a lengthy review of Afghanistan strategy, but still added up to only 5 percent for the year.
Four or 5 percent “may be the baseline, at least for now, no matter what the strategic stakes are, or even as U.S. involvement ratchets up,” Mr. Jurkowitz said.
This year, Mr. Jurkowitz estimated, roughly half of the coverage of Afghanistan actually emanated from the war zone. That suggests that “without a major Washington policy debate or strategy review ongoing, that Afghanistan remains a story that gets modest coverage,” he said.
At the same time, there are antiwar voices who say the news media has been “compliant” with regard to Afghanistan — the word that Joe Scarborough used on Friday on his MSNBC program, “Morning Joe.”
He asked Richard N. Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, “For years, we have had journalists wringing their hands and editorialists lashing out at the profession for not asking the tough questions leading up to Iraq. Ten years from now, won’t we be saying the same thing about Afghanistan?”
Mr. Haass said he feared that Mr. Scarborough was right. “I think history’s going to be brutal on the questions that haven’t been asked.” Or, alternatively, the answers that haven’t been heard.