Report

Why News of Iraq Didn't Surge

May 24, 2007 may not go down as a red letter date in the history of the Iraq conflict. But it helped mark a turning point in media coverage of the third-longest war in U.S. history.

On that date, Congress voted to fund the war without troop withdrawal timetables, giving President Bush a major victory in his months-long struggle with the new Democratic leadership on Capitol Hill. Journalists covering that struggle concluded that the White House had prevailed and the political fight over Iraq was no longer a hot story. "Congress Bows to Bush, OKs Iraq Funds," declared a headline on an Associated Press story.

From January 2007 -- when Bush announced the "surge" -- through the end of May 2007, Iraq had been the dominant story, accounting for 20% of all the news coverage measured by PEJ's News Coverage Index. But from the time of that May funding vote through the war's fifth anniversary on March 19, 2008, coverage plunged by about 50%. In that period, the media paid more than twice as much attention to the presidential campaign as it did to the war.

All that helps explain another eye-catching statistic. In the first three months of 2008, coverage of the campaign outstripped coverage of the war by a margin of more than 10-to-1 (43% of the newshole compared with 4%). In an environment in which newsroom cutbacks and decreasing resources may make it more difficult for news outlets to stay atop two ongoing mega-stories, the media, for now, have made their priorities clear.

Read the full report Why News of Iraq Didn't Surge on the Pew Research Center Web site.