In January, any talk of war with Iran was little more than a faint rumble on the horizon, and much of that was the coming from a few chatty cable talk hosts.
On January 12, “Hardball” host Chris Matthews opened his show by asking: “Is Bush trying to gin up a war with Iran?” Two days earlier, the President had announced his Baghdad “surge” strategy in a speech that also included a short passage that seemed to threaten action against Iran.
Most of the media focused on the Iraq policy, the reception to the speech and the growing antagonism toward in Congress toward the President's plan. Any smoldering U.S. tensions with Iran—over its nuclear program and activities in Iraq—remained a small sidebar.
Through January, the subject of Iran never accounted for more than 1% of overall news coverage as measured by PEJ's News Coverage Index. And even that was largely from a handful of cable talkers, such as MSNBC's Keith Olbermann and Joe Scarborough and CNN's Lou Dobbs, who kept gnawing at the prospect of another major military front. But last week, those musings about confrontation with Teheran exploded into media consciousness as a serious war scare, according to the PEJ News Interest Index for February 11-16.
This burst of media attention propelled the American-Iranian war of words into the third biggest story of the week (at 7%) and the top story on the front page of newspapers (at 8%), according to the Index.
Only the debate over Iraq (11%) and the densely populated 2008 presidential race (9%) edged out Iran. And if the coverage of one element of the Iraq story—the whereabouts of radical Shiite cleric Moktada al-Sadr who was reported to be in Iran--were added in, Iran would have been the second biggest story of the week at 9%.
Read the full article and view charts on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.