As U.S. Succeeds In Iraq, Network TV Pulls the Plug

Nearly two years after reporters such as NBC's Tom Brokaw derided President Bush's troop surge as "a folly" and suggested the war itself was a "lost cause," American troop deaths are at their lowest level since the Iraq war began in March 2003, and the death toll among Iraqi civilians is also down sharply in 2008.

So right on cue, Monday's New York Times reports that ABC, CBS and NBC have all pulled their full time reporters from Iraq. According to correspondent Brian Stelter, the lack of violence means the networks are less interested in the Iraq story: "Representatives for the networks emphasized that they would continue to cover the war and said the staff adjustments reflected the evolution of the conflict in Iraq from a story primarily about violence to one about reconstruction and politics."

As the Media Research Center documented several months ago, the networks have been steadily curtailing their coverage of Iraq, with the drop in coverage closely tracking the drop in U.S. fatalities in the war zone. As Stelter points out in today's story, only stories "that are strongly visual — as when an Iraqi journalist tossed two shoes at President Bush this month — are still covered by the networks."

Former NBC reporter Mike Boettcher is still in Iraq, covering the war for his own Web site. “Like it or not, the country is at war and there is not a correspondent to cover it,” Boettcher told the New York Times. “Sad.”

An excerpt from the December 29 item, that appeared on the front page of the Business section:
Quietly, as the United States presidential election and its aftermath have dominated the news, America’s three broadcast network news divisions have stopped sending full-time correspondents to Iraq....

ABC, CBS and NBC declined to speak on the record about their news coverage decisions. But representatives for the networks emphasized that they would continue to cover the war and said the staff adjustments reflected the evolution of the conflict in Iraq from a story primarily about violence to one about reconstruction and politics.

In Baghdad, ABC, CBS and NBC still maintain skeleton bureaus in heavily fortified compounds. Correspondents rotate in and out when stories warrant, and with producers and Iraqi employees remaining in Baghdad, the networks can still react to breaking news. But employees who are familiar with the staffing pressures of the networks say the bureaus are a shadow of what they used to be. Some of the offices have only one Western staff member.

The staff cuts appear to be the latest evidence of budget pressures at the networks. And those pressures are not unique to television: many newspapers and magazines have also curtailed their presence in Baghdad. As a consequence, the war is gradually fading from television screens, newspapers and, some worry, the consciousness of the American public.

One result is that, as the war claims fewer American lives, Iraq is fading from TV screens. The three network evening newscasts devoted 423 minutes to Iraq this year as of Dec. 19, compared with 1,888 minutes in 2007, said Andrew Tyndall, a television news consultant.

In the early months of the war, television images out of Iraq were abundant. “But clearly, viewers’ appetite for stories from Iraq waned when it turned from all-out battle into something equally important but more difficult to describe and cover,” [former CNN and NBC correspondent Jane] Arraf said. She recalled hearing one of her TV editors say, “I don’t want to see the same old pictures of soldiers kicking down doors.”...

Mike Boettcher, a Baghdad correspondent for NBC News from 2005 to 2007, said nightly news segments and embed assignments with military units occurred less frequently as the war continued.

“Americans like their wars movie length and with a happy ending,” Mr. Boettcher said. “If the war drags on and there is no happy ending, Americans start to squirm in their seats. In the case of television news, they began changing the channel when a story from Iraq appeared.”

“Like it or not, the country is at war and there is not a correspondent to cover it,” he said. “Sad.”
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes
Rich Noyes is the Senior Editor for Newsbusters