There was a brief moment – remember? – when it looked as if the megamedia were going to make amends for having operated as a wide-open spigot for the propaganda of the Cheney-Bush administration in the Global War on Terror™ and actually do their job: finding the truth. For that brief moment, it wasn’t just Knight Ridder (later McClatchy) doing the heavy lifting in covering the Iraq war and occupation. Now we’re back to business as usual.
You can see what’s been happening quantifiably thanks to the graphic below from the Pew Research Center on People and the Press (based on data from the Project for Excellence in Journalism). Of course, this doesn’t say anything about the quality of the recent coverage. Nor does it point out that, however good or bad the coverage has been, the bulk of it has appeared on page A10, or beyond. Indeed, more evidence for the death of irony, the news of the Pew survey itself was on page A12 of today's Washington Post. As for television coverage, well, pffffflllbt.
As Scott Keeter and Robert Suls at Pew note, this reduced amount of coverage has been accompanied by a reduction in one measure of people’s awareness of what is happening in Iraq: knowing how many Americans in uniform have died there. Last August, 54% of those polled could correctly put the number of fatalities at around 3500. In the current poll, only 28% could correctly answer the question: "Since the start of military action in Iraq, about how many U.S. military personnel have been killed? To the best of your knowledge, have there been, around 2000, 3000, 4000, or 5000 troop deaths?"
(The actual figure, as of today, is 3987, as calculated by the Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, the volunteers who have been doing an excellent job of keeping tabs on the situation since July 2003.)
Keeter and Suls write:
The drop in awareness comes as press attention to the war has waned. According to the News Content Index conducted by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the percentage of news stories devoted to the war has sharply declined since last year, dropping from an average of 15% of the newshole in July to just 3% in February.
As news coverage of the war has diminished, so too has public interest in news about Iraq. According to Pew's News Interest Index survey, Iraq was the public's most closely followed news story in all but five weeks during the first half of 2007; however, it was a much less dominant story between July 2007 and February 2008. Notably, the Iraq war has not been the public's top weekly story since mid-October.
Along with declining interest in news about Iraq, a Pew poll last month found a significant increase in the number of Americans who believe that military progress is being made in Iraq.
That previous Pew poll kindled a report Wednesday at Politico by David Paul Kuhn saying that since support for the war is higher than it’s been since 2006, Senator McCain is going to benefit if the eventual Democratic nominee argues in favor of withdrawal.
The uptick in public support is a promising sign for Republican candidates who have been bludgeoned over the Bush administration’s war policies. But no candidate stands to gain more than McCain.
"How could Democrats possibly hand McCain a better issue than to let him run on his record of advocating a robust U.S. presence in Iraq with all the positive battlefield news that is filtering out of that country?" asked Michael O’Hanlon, a national security adviser at the Brookings Institution who has been at the center of the Iraq debate since the war’s outset.
The inimitable Glenn Greenwald eviscerates the Politico story and O’Hanlon’s view today in his regular blog at Salon.com. Greenwald points out that, whether Americans know how many of their fellow citizens have been killed in Iraq or not, most polls show continued opposition to the war and a desire to get out. In the latest USA Today/Gallup Poll, released today:
Which would be better for the United States?
Keep a significant number of troops in Iraq until the situation there gets better: 35%
Set a timetable for removing troops and stick to it regardless of what is going on in Iraq: 60%
Among those who support withdrawal:
30% Withdraw troops as soon as possible
69% Set a timetable for gradual withdrawal
Most telling in light of the view that allegedly changing attitudes mean good news for McCain is Greenwald’s coda:
Less than a week ago, Democrat Bill Foster was elected to Congress in Denny Hastert's long-time, bright red district in Illinois. The centerpiece of his campaign was opposition to the Iraq war, and he defeated a pro-war candidate whose policies mirrored those of John McCain. Might that development have merited a mention by The Politico in this piece? Public opinion on the Iraq War is "re-shaping the political landscape" alright -- just in exactly the opposition direction as Kuhn claimed here.
Given the rotten megamedia coverage of the Iraq war and occupation, it’s no doubt true and no surprise that most Americans aren’t aware that there are perhaps a million Iraqis dead, millions wounded, millions in exile or displaced inside the country, an economy in shambles, public amenities still far worse than in the worst days of Saddam Hussein, and a political solution nowhere in sight.
And even though most Americans don’t seem to know this is a $3 trillion war, with U.S. fatalities on the cusp of 4000 (and casualties over 30,000, with spin-off consequences touching hundreds of thousands of kin, friends and co-workers of those deployed to Iraq), the majority of people in this country are not keen on the prospect of a hundred years’ war. They want the troops to come home and they want the government to do something about the mess made by Cheney-Bush and cronies.
If John McCain’s campaign team wants to run on sticking it out forever and a day in Iraq, then, in the notorious words of the man whose legacy of death and destruction McCain embraces, I say, "bring ‘em on."