Only ABC Runs Full Iraq Status Story After Fewest U.S. Deaths Ever

Not surprisingly given the past pattern, of the broadcast networks evening newscasts on Thursday, only ABC's World News devoted a full story to the fewest Americans killed in Iraq in any month since the war began. CBS and NBC gave the great news a few seconds before pivoting to full stories on the rise of female suicide bombers and the sexual assault problem in the military. ABC anchor Charles Gibson hailed:
[A] statistic out of Iraq today that is remarkable: Six Americans were killed in combat in the entire month of July. That's the lowest number since the war began. That compares to the 66 combat deaths in July of last year.
From Iraq, reporter Terry McCarthy proceeded to convey how “U.S. troops on the ground don't follow statistics. They follow their gut. And these days, that tells them things are getting better.” McCarthy pointed to how an Army Sergeant, seven months into his second tour, “hasn't fired his weapon once on patrol” and then McCarthy credited the surge: “The turning point was the surge, which began 18 months ago. Three months in, U.S. fatalities peaked at 119. Since then, violence has declined steeply.”

CBS Evening News anchor Katie Couric on Thursday didn't mention the low number of deaths, but she gave it just under ten seconds on Wednesday evening: “The U.S. death toll this month is nine, and that is the lowest since the invasion in 2003.” She quickly set up a full story on another Iraq topic, citing:
A new trend: Women strapping themselves with explosives, killing themselves and others in the process. Richard Roth tells us why female suicide bombers are on the rise.
Brian Williams gave the subject a few more seconds on Thursday night as he reported how “President Bush made an unusual early morning public appearance to talk about progress in Iraq” as “the number of U.S. combat deaths there was five” in July, “the lowest number since the start of the war.” Williams then jumped to a full report from Jim Miklaszeski on “new efforts to address sexual assault in the U.S. military.”

The cited five or six versus nine American deaths in Iraq can be attributed, I'm guessing, to counting only deaths from combat compared to counting those killed by any cause in Iraq, such as accidents, though I can't explain ABC's six versus NBC's five.

The news choices on Thursday matched the practice of ABC's World News always showing more willingness to highlight improvements in Iraq.

The MRC's July 21 Media Reality Check, “TV Keeps Pushing Bad News Agenda on Iraq; Study: ABC, CBS & NBC War Coverage Plummets; Reporters Emphasize Casualties Over Surge Success,” determined:
A new study by the Media Research Center finds that network evening news coverage of Iraq has fallen 65 percent in the past twelve months — a mere 429 stories so far this year, compared to 1,227 on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening news shows during the first six and a half months of 2007.
Rich Noyes, author of the study, pointed out:
To its credit, ABC’s World News with Charles Gibson provided the most even-handed coverage, with 34 stories focused on positive developments compared to 56 stories emphasizing bad news. On June 21, ABC reporter Miguel Marquez told viewers of big progress in Samarra, where the bombing of the Golden Dome mosque triggered major bloodshed two years ago: “Last year, U.S. forces here were attacked about 80 times a month. Since February, there have been a total of four attacks, a dramatic turnaround.” Two days earlier, ABC’s Terry McCarthy told a similar story of progress in the southern city of Basra, “a city reborn out of fear.”
My July 8 NewsBusters item, “ABC Sees 'Impressive Gains in Iraq' While CBS Finds Bad Hospitals,” recounted:
As was the pattern earlier this year and last, ABC's World News is much more willing -- than its CBS and NBC competitors -- to acknowledge good news in the Iraq war. On Tuesday night, ABC's Martha Raddatz cited "some really impressive gains" as she reported the plummeting number of attacks in Baghdad, falling from 1,278 in June of 2007 to 112 last month. The night before, only anchor Charlie Gibson highlighted the "upbeat assessment of security in Iraq today from Joint Chiefs Chairman Admiral Michael Mullen."

Neither the CBS Evening News nor NBC Nightly News mentioned Mullen on Monday night while NBC's Jim Miklaszewski only noted less violence in Iraq in contrast to a "record number of Americans killed in Afghanistan last month," so "if there's any bright side here...it's that the level of violence in Iraq has come down enough" to allow the military to move resources to Afghanistan...
ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscast coverage of the low death level in Iraq during the month of July:

CBS Evening News, July 30:
KATIE COURIC: Turning to Iraq now and more encouraging news about the drop in violence there. The U.S. death toll this month is nine, and that is the lowest since the invasion in 2003. According to the White House, car bombings in Iraq are on the decline, as is the number of male suicide bombers. But that has led to a new trend: Women strapping themselves with explosives, killing themselves and others in the process. Richard Roth tells us why female suicide bombers are on the rise.
NBC Nightly News, July 31:
BRIAN WILLIAMS: At the White House today, President Bush made an unusual early morning public appearance to talk about progress in Iraq, noting that violence is at its lowest level in more than four years. This month, the number of U.S. combat deaths there was five. That's the lowest number since the start of the war.

The President also made good on an earlier promise confirming, that starting tomorrow, combat tours for troops heading to Iraq and Afghanistan will be reduced from 15 months back to 12.

Meanwhile, there is disturbing news tonight about the number of women who are putting their lives on the line for their country and are facing attacks by fellow service members. From the Pentagon, NBC's Jim Miklaszewski tonight on new efforts to address sexual assault in the U.S. military.
ABC's World News. July 31, transcript provided by the MRC's Brad Wilmouth:
CHARLES GIBSON: There has been something of an oil boom in Iraq, where production has reached its highest levels since the war began. From April through June, oil production averaged nearly 2.5 million barrels in Iraq per day, resulting in $33 billion in oil revenues there so far this year.

There's another statistic out of Iraq today that is remarkable. Six Americans were killed in combat in the entire month of July. That's the lowest number since the war began. That compares to the 66 combat deaths in July of last year. As Terry McCarthy reports from Baghdad, no one is more aware of that number than the troops themselves.

TERRY MCCARTHY: U.S. troops on the ground don't follow statistics. They follow their gut. And these days, that tells them things are getting better.

SPECIALIST JOE TYLER, U.S. ARMY: I really don't have to worry about thinking, all right, I'm leaving. Am I going to come back today? It's more, I'm leaving. I'll be back in a couple of hours. I'll be able to talk to my family.

MCCARTHY: With the improvements in security, President Bush chose today to announce that troop rotations in Iraq will be shortened from 15 to 12 months.

STAFF SERGEANT VICTOR O'DELL, U.S. ARMY: My wife will be happy. She'll be very happy that the tours are getting shortened.

MCCARTHY: Sergeant O'Dell is seven months into his second tour. This time around, he told us he hasn't fired his weapon once on patrol.

O'DELL: Only for the range. That's a good thing, too.

MCCARTHY: The turning point was the surge, which began 18 months ago. Three months in, U.S. fatalities peaked at 119. Since then, violence has declined steeply, as U.S. troops set up bases in local neighborhoods, handed out reconstruction money, and lured many Sunnis away from the insurgency. Retired General Jack Keane was one of the architects of the surge.

RETIRED GENERAL JACK KEANE, U.S. ARMY: We knew that a counteroffensive would increase casualties, but we knew the net result of that, if it worked, would be lower casualties. And that is what has happened.

MCCARTHY: The threat level has certainly gone down. But for soldiers like these, who are preparing to go on patrol tonight, they still can't afford to let their guards down. Iraq may be quieter. It's not yet a country of peace. General David Petraeus is determined not to declare victory early.

GENERAL DAVID PETRAEUS, MULTINATIONAL FORCE IRAQ: As we have repeatedly said, and cautioned against, there will be further attacks.

MCCARTHY: But if the casualty figures continue to decline, the President and the General both hope to bring home more troops this year. Welcome news for those troops on the ground. Terry McCarthy, ABC News, Baghdad.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center