Nov 16, 2007

Losing The Narrative

The not inconsiderable work being put into the "prospects for U.S. success in Iraq are improving as a result of the Surge" narrative doesn't seem to be paying the dividends that its sponsors had hoped.

According to a new study by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, Americans' interest in the war continues to wane:

News about the Iraq war does not dominate the public's consciousness nearly as much as it did last winter. Currently, just 16% of Americans name the Iraq war as the news story that first comes to mind when asked what has been in the news lately. In December and January, a period when U.S. policy toward Iraq and President Bush's troop surge drew extensive news coverage, far greater numbers named the Iraq war as the first story that came to mind.

More generally, public interest in news about the situation in Iraq is now less than it was earlier this year or in 2006. Since June, about 30% of the public, on average, said they have followed news about the situation in Iraq very closely. In 2006 and the first two months of this year, about 40% on average paid very close attention to Iraq news.


News coverage of Iraq, like public interest in the situation there, is now significantly less than it was at the start of the year. In January, roughly a quarter of the overall newshole (26%) in newspapers, TV newscasts, websites and radio was devoted to news about Iraq. In October, the war received only half as much coverage on average (13%), according to data compiled by the Project for Excellence in Journalism's News Coverage Index.

The diminished press coverage of Iraq is an important factor in the falloff in news interest, given that most Americans say they "come across" war news without looking for it, rather than seeking out news about the Iraq war. Overall, 75% of the public says they come across news about the war when they are not actively seeking it out, compared with just 20% who say they go looking for war news.


Public interest in the Iraq war peaked during the conflict's early phase in the spring of 2003, and began to decline after the Pentagon declared an end to major combat operations. For the year in 2003, 52% of Americans followed news from Iraq very closely on average.

Overall interest fell to 44% in 2004, on average, with the highest level of interest measured in April and May of that year, amid the insurgency in Fallujah and reports of prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib (54% very closely). Throughout 2005 and 2006, public attentiveness to the situation in Iraq fluctuated in response to news events, but on average about four-in-ten followed the story very closely in both years.

In the first 10 months of 2007, public interest in Iraq has averaged 33% in the weekly News Interest Index. Interest was significantly greater during January, when Bush announced a major troop increase in Iraq, than it has been in recent weeks. In the current survey, 31% say they are following news about the situation in Iraq very closely, while 20% named it as the story they followed most closely last week.

Although interest in Iraq news has declined this year, it has been the top story in the weekly News Interest Index far more often than any other story. Last week, however, about as many people named the 2008 election as cited the Iraq war as the story they followed most closely (22% vs. 20%). A week earlier, the California wildfires were the dominant story in terms of news interest: roughly four times as many named the wildfires as the week's top story as cited the war in Iraq (46% vs. 12%).


Donald Douglas said...

Funny how everyone says the 2006 election was a referendum on Iraq. That was only a year ago. Now with the improvement on the ground the liberal opinion manufacturers are trying to take attention off the progress of the surge, in hope that the Democrats won't look any more foolish on national security.

Meatball One said...

That's one way of looking at developments and dynamics in Iraq.

I must confess however that the intelligence substrate that you're privy to, and your subsequent analysis, doesn't quite line up with the impressions OSINTly scavenged or personally conveyed to me (yeah yeah, I know that doesn't lend greater cred or fidelity to my opinions), by in-country folk among the FSO and an IC.

Nonetheless, such tattlers unanimously speak rather matter-of-factly of administrating a lost war while the statesiders figure out how to do anything substantive about the reality there upon us.

DD, you know that I believe Iraq was an ill-conceived and atrociously managed adventure from scratch - and that it's just gone horribly downhill since then, jusged by most any metric I've ever heard of. We could have f'cked with Iraq so much more competently and constructively - of that I harbor zero doubts - and come out perhaps somewhat bruised as opposed to bashed & battered.

Why one with tenure would stoop to defending such atrocious management of a decisively strategic undertaking, an undertaking many have intelligently argued was imperative upon us, instead of devoting their academic tool sets and tenured freedoms of salaried critical expression for voracious engagement in patriotically critical analysis ...well, and as you know, it just baffles the diced onions outta my tiny meatball.

Iraq will certainly not comprise our last decisive adventure: shouldn't we be extremely critical in our assessments of this chapter (even as we still fight it) so as to minimize the risk of effing things up once more the next time an imperative de l'Iraq is upon us?

I hope you find time to get back to me on this, though I know you have a plateful of obligations upon your shoulders.

Cheers DD.

Meatball One said...

Check out these sites (they're on my short list):
matter-of-factly Haft of the spear,
unrelenting MountainRunner,
and the ghosts in the machine at Kent's Imperative

No flags, few slogans, highly critical of the status quo, yet definitely potent and hardly whussy.

Note that the MountainRunner is on Dipnotes' very very very short blogroll, despite the fact the MR constantly rips into State. I think there's a lesson or two in this...perhaps.

steve said...

My immediate take is that the admin would like nothing better than for Iraq to disappear from the public radar screen. Sufficient pronouncements of rosy developments to offset the horror realities of the week (how many dozen innocent civilians will be killed by US mercenaries this week?) will be forthcoming until the interest level drops to a manageable level.

Meanwhile, billions continue to be appropriated for the war. Those billions aren't burned in a bonfire. They go directly to those who have profitted greatly from this exercise.

Oddly enough, I hear that the most peaceful area in Iraq is the one where foreign troops have left.

M1 said...

I agree, actually it would be sweet for many if all could become both out of sight and out of mind.

And sure, and just as you say: it's not any foreigners getting all that money we're spending. It's going to what are largely American owned corporations and their owners. The war is a great instrument for the transference of wealth from one party to another. Why would the winners of that equation want the spending spree to stop?

And all polls I've been privy to show that Iraqis by far want the U.S. out, and that more or less immediately or yesterday. Their opinions must reflect some sort of locally embedded understanding of what would make for less unsettling circumstances for them, non? ;)