Obsidian Wings: Two Minutes A Week

Obsidian Wings: Two Minutes A Week
From the NYT:

“According to data compiled by Andrew Tyndall, a television consultant who monitors the three network evening newscasts, coverage of Iraq has been “massively scaled back this year.” Almost halfway into 2008, the three newscasts have shown 181 weekday minutes of Iraq coverage, compared with 1,157 minutes for all of 2007. The “CBS Evening News” has devoted the fewest minutes to Iraq, 51, versus 55 minutes on ABC’s “World News” and 74 minutes on “NBC Nightly News.” (The average evening newscast is 22 minutes long.)

CBS News no longer stations a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, where some 150,000 United States troops are deployed.

Paul Friedman, a senior vice president at CBS News, said the news division does not get reports from Iraq on television “with enough frequency to justify keeping a very, very large bureau in Baghdad.” He said CBS correspondents can “get in there very quickly when a story merits it.””

Give me a break. What does it mean to say that the news division “does not get reports” from Iraq? Surely not that the reporters there are incapable of sending stories, or that they have nothing to write about. It has to mean that they are not sending things that CBS wants to put on the news. And that’s very, very different.

A lot of people are quite interested in what’s happening in Iraq. How many? I have no idea: my attempts to find out via Google haven’t gotten me very far. But even supposing, for the sake of argument, that our interest has waned: so what? “Viewer interest” isn’t static and unalterable. The media decides to hype stories all the time, and in so doing makes people care about things they wouldn’t care about otherwise. The war in Iraq has a lot more intrinsic interest than the death of Anna Nicole Smith, the vagaries of Paris Hilton, or any of the other completely inane stories that the networks somehow manage to find time for. It shouldn’t be beyond the imaginations of reporters and producers to find a way to bring that interest out.

And we ought to care. We are responsible for the present state of Iraq, and we ought to care what happens there. Besides, we have men and women risking their lives in Iraq. We owe both Iraqis and our troops more than 181 weekday minutes, for all three networks. That’s about two minutes of Iraq coverage, per network, per week. And that’s far too little.


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