Broadcasting from Baghdad on March 6, NBC’s Brian Williams introduced his first story by connecting events in the Iraqi capital to a verdict in a Washington courtroom about 6,000 miles away.
Former vice presidential aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby, he declared solemnly, had been convicted of perjury and obstruction “in a case that has to do with the very underpinnings of this war here in Iraq.” In an instant, on NBC and elsewhere, the Libby verdict was transformed into a story about the rationale for the war.
Ever since President Bush announced his troop “surge” on January 10, the war in Iraq has dominated the news as measured by PEJ’s News Coverage Index. Specifically, it was the fierce political debate over strategy in Congress that has commanded the most attention. The debate over the war has finished first or second in the Index’s top story list for eight straight weeks, from early January to early March.
But last week, even as Congressional Democrats fine-tuned their anti-surge tactics, the policy debate slipped to its lowest spot of the year, down into to fifth place (at 7%). Instead, two events that offered different and relatively newer angles into the contentious issues surrounding Iraq trumped the political argument over what war strategy would best serve America’s interests.
One was the Libby verdict. It was the biggest story last week, filling 13% of the overall newshole from March 4 to March 9.
Libby “was a leading voice, if not the leading voice in the bureaucracy in the run up to war, the whole case for the war,” noted Newsweek’s Richard Wolffe on Tucker Carlson’s March 7 MSNBC show.
The second war-related subject that offered a different perspective on Iraq was the expanding examination of problems with the care of wounded vets. The war at home was the fourth biggest subject of the week (at 7%). A major story since the Washington Post’s February 18-19 expose on Walter Reed Army Hospital, this was the third week in a row that the treatment of vets held a top spot in the news agenda, after weeks in which the homefront was something of a media afterthought. The story has broadened far beyond the situation at Walter Reed.
Read the full article and view charts on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.