With Success of Surge, NY Times’ Iraq War Coverage Drops to All-Time Low

October 21, 2008 - 4:31 AM
As the troop surge led to a dramatic decline in the number of U.S. casualties in Iraq, The New York Times's coverage of the Iraq war also has declined, falling to an all-time low in the last two months.

U.S. soldiers of the 101st Airborne Division preparing to leave Inshon patrol base in Youssifiyah, Iraq, Monday, Oct. 20, 2008. They handed over the camp of Youssifiyah to the Iraqi army Monday. (AP Photo/Loay Hameed)

(CNSNews.com) – As the U.S. troop surge in Iraq has succeeded, leading to a dramatic decline in the number of U.S. casualties in that country, The New York Times’s coverage of the Iraq war also has declined, falling to an all-time low in the last two months, according to a CNSNews.com analysis of stories retrieved on the Nexis database.
 
At The Washington Post, coverage of the war has been significantly lower this year than in previous years.
 
In the months leading up to the 2004 and 2006 elections, when U.S. casualties were running higher in Iraq, coverage of the Iraq war in both The New York Times and The Washington Post was greater than it has been in the months leading up to the 2008 election, when U.S. casualties have been low.
 
In August, September and October 2004, the months immediately preceding the last presidential election, The New York Times ran respectively 254, 328 and 383 stories that cited “Iraq” at least five times, according to Nexis searches of The New York Times.  In August, September and October 2006, the months immediately preceding the last congressional election, The Times ran respectively 189, 215, and 223 stories that cited “Iraq” at least five times.
 
This year, the Times ran only 80 stories in August and 86 in September that cited “Iraq” at least five times.  That is a drop of more than 60 percent from August and September of 2004.  (See chart)
 
In 2004, The Washington Post ran 195 stories in August, 248 in September, and 290 in October, which cited “Iraq” at least five times. In 2006, those numbers were 167, 207 and 218.
 
This year, the Post ran 65 stories in August and 105 in September that cited “Iraq” at least five times.  That was a drop of more than 60 percent from August and September of 2004 and more than 30 percent from August and September of 2006 (See chart)
 
When it comes to front-page stories that use the word “Iraq” in the headline, according to Nexis searches, The New York Times ran 13 in September 2004 and 7 in September 2006. 
 
In September 2008, however, the Times ran only one story that used the word “Iraq” in the headline. (See chart)
 
At the Post, 20 front-page stories used the word “Iraq” in the headline in September 2004 and 15 in September 2006. 
 
In September 2008, the Post ran 6 stories that used the word “Iraq” in the headline. (See chart)  
 
The drop in coverage at The New York Times and The Washington Post occurred in tandem with declines in monthly U.S. combat casualties in Iraq, which remain near a post-invasion low.  

This September, U.S. troops in Iraq were more likely to die in non-combat incidents such as vehicular accidents, helicopter crashes, or from illness than they were to be killed by enemy action.
 
There were eight U.S. combat casualties in Iraq in September 2008 compared to 43 in September 2007, a decline of about 81 percent.  This improvement in the security situation in Iraq coincides with the downward trend in The New York Times coverage of the war. 
 
The one front-page story in The New York Times last month that used the word “Iraq” in the headline compares with 19 such stories in September 2007, a decline of 95 percent.
 
July marked the lowest U.S. combat casualty of the entire war, according to a CNSNews.com database compiled from Defense Department reports and other publicly available information.  The New York Times published seven front page stories that used “Iraq” in the headline this July compared to 19 in July 2007, a drop of 63 percent.
 
The Washington Post ran six front-page stories that used “Iraq” in the headline this September compared to 19 in September 2007, a drop of 68 percent.  In August 2008, the Post ran only two front-page stories that used the word “Iraq” in the headline compared to 14 in August 2007, a drop of 86 percent.
 
Coverage of the Iraq War in The New York Times and The Washington Post was relatively high at the beginning of the troops surge in early 2007, and stayed high while U.S. casualties in Iraq stayed high, but then dropped off after Gen, David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker testified about the surge in Congress in September 2007.
 
Both men spoke positively about the surge, testifying that it was producing greater stability, reduced violence and political progress in key provinces. (See related story)

For the period since the surge began in January 2007, U.S. combat casualties reached peaked in May 2007.  By the next month, all U.S. surge forces were in place in Iraq and casualties began to decline.
 
By August 2007, the month before Petraeus and Crocker told Congress the surge was working, U.S. combat-related casualties in Iraq were occurring at a lower rate, compared on a month-to-month, than in 2006.
 
In January 2007, as the surge began, The New York Times ran 319 stories that mentioned Iraq.  In September 2008, it ran only 86, a decline of 73 percent.
 
Coverage of the Iraq war in the Times and the Post spiked during the 2004 and 2006 election cycles, particularly when measured by the number of stories that used the word “Iraq” in the headline.
 
In August 2004, the Times ran 73 stories throughout the paper that used “Iraq” in the headline, according to a Nexis search.  In October 2004, the month leading up to the last presidential election, the Times ran 98 stories throughout the paper that used “Iraq” in the headline.
 
The trend was more pronounced at the Post. In August 2004, the Post ran 65 stories throughout the paper that used “Iraq” in the headline. In October 2004, the Post ran 107 stories throughout the paper that used “Iraq” in the headline.
 
A similar trend was evident in 2006. The New York Times used “Iraq” 48 times in headlines in August 2006 and 70 times in October 2006.  The Washington Post used “Iraq” 60 times in headlines in August 2006 and 90 times in October 2006.
 
In the run-up to the 2006 mid-term elections, reports in The New York Times tended to focus on Iraq’s internal divisions, reaction to the death of Saddam Hussein and the American public’s growing impatience with the war effort.
 
On the front-page of its Sunday edition on October 26, 2006, a little more than a week before the election, the Post ran a story headlined: “Tipping Point for War's Supporters?  In Past Month, Even Stalwarts Have Called for Change in Iraq Policy.”
 
“October 2006 may be remembered as the month that the U.S. experience in Iraq hit a tipping point, when the violence flared and shook both the military command in Iraq and the political establishment back in Washington,” the Post reported.
 
“Democrats, once deeply divided over the war, coalesced around the idea of a phased withdrawal and aired television ads on Iraq in most of the competitive races around the country,” the paper said. “Republican candidates, on the other hand, started ignoring Karl Rove's advice to talk about the war. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) told an interviewer that ‘the challenge is to get Americans to focus on pocketbook issues, and not on the Iraq and terror issue.’”
 
After Petraeus’s and Crocker’s congressional testimony in September 2007, as U.S. casualties continued to decline, coverage of the Iraq war in both the Post and the Times began dropping.