War? What war?

News coverage of the war in Iraq has shrunk dramatically.

By Katharine Mieszkowski
Published March 18, 2008 4:28PM (EDT)

If it seems like you have to flip to Page 17 of your daily newspaper to find any news about the war in Iraq, it's not your imagination. Iraq really has almost entirely disappeared from the news, replaced by coverage of the presidential campaign and the economy, the Associated Press reports.

For the first 10 weeks of 2008, the war accounted for just 3 percent of news stories on TV, in newspapers and on the Internet, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism. During the same period in 2007, the Iraq conflict made up 23 percent of news stories.

The shift is even more dramatic on cable news, which is all but Iraq-free now. While the war was the focus of 24 percent of news stories during the same 10 weeks in 2007 on cable news, this year it was just 1 percent. "The fact that it went down didn't surprise me," Tom Rosenstiel, the project's director told the Associated Press. "But the fact that it almost disappeared is something I didn't expect."

What changed? In September 2007, Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, testified to Congress that the "surge" was working, and coverage plummeted, according to news consultant Andrew Tyndall. The war in Iraq made up 30 minutes per week of the coverage on the three network evening newscasts before the general's testimony. Afterward, it averaged just four minutes per week.

As news coverage has evaporated, what Americans know about the war has grown hazier, too. As recently as August 2007, about 50 percent of Americans have consistently been able to estimate how many American military personnel had died there. But a survey conducted two weeks ago by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that now only 28 percent know that almost 4,000 Americans have been killed in Iraq.

On Monday, with the war entering its sixth year, Dick Cheney made headlines by appearing in Baghdad and calling the war a "successful endeavor." Instead of feebly declaring victory, maybe the vice president should just stop talking about Iraq and that pesky $3 trillion war will magically disappear from the news altogether.

Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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