Covering the Wars

Covering war as a journalist has always been dangerous.  The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan have been especially deadly. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 148 journalists and 54 other media workers have been killed in Iraq since the March 2003 invasion. Of the journalists, 105 were killed covering the war – shot in crossfire, murdered, and or otherwise killed while trying to get the war’s stories.[1]  Since late 2001, 19 journalists have been killed in Afghanistan, 18 while covering the war, and 34 have been killed in Pakistan, 7 while covering the war.

Reporting on war has always been difficult given the scale of events and the chaos inherent in the situation.  The US military has made it more difficult to get an objective picture of the wars.  It controls access with the “embed system” and produces more material than ever before that puts the military’s own spin on the war before the international and domestic public.  For example, the public relations firm Lincoln Group received a Pentagon contract to produce public opinion in Iraq more favorable to the United States and especially to the military.  It did so in part by buying access to non-advertising newspaper space in that country or by sending in operatives posing as freelance reporters delivering news content to media outlets.  The US military denied press and humanitarian organizations access to Fallujah altogether during the 2004 siege.

Coverage of the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has been sparse compared with the number of Americans involved in fighting them, the importance of the story to the well-being of each country involved, and the resources being allocated by Congress to the effort each year.  The Pew Research Center found that through 2010, just 1 percent of the news was devoted to Iraq and 4 percent to Afghanistan, down from 2 percent and 5 percent the year before.[2]  While this did make Afghanistan the 5th top story of the year, a significant amount of that coverage focused on the firing of General McChrystal and the Wikileaks story.  Even this amount of coverage was more than the public, as polled by Pew, had sustained interest in.  While news stories about the economy were the top interest of 40 percent of the public, fewer than 10 percent of those surveyed said they were following the wars “very closely.” 

INSET INFOGRAPHIC
[1] Committee to Protect Journalists, “Committee to Protect Journalists Database (Motive Confirmed),” (2011), http://www.cpj.org/killed/cpj-database.xls, accessed 17 June 2011.  
[2] Committee to Protect Journalists, “Prominent Journalist Dies in Targeted Killing in Pakistan,” (2011), http://www.cpj.org/2011/05/prominent-journalist-dies-in-targeted-killing-in-p.php.
[3] Howard Kurtz, “Atlantic Monthly Editor Killed in Iraq,” (2003), http://www.washingtonpost.com/ac2/wp-dyn?pagename=article&node=&contentId=A27396-2003Apr4&notFound=true.  

ARTICLE
[1] Committee to Protect Journalists, http://www.cpj.org/killed/mideast/iraq/.
[2] Pew Research Center, The Year in News 2010. Journalism.org, January 11, 2011. http://www.journalism.org/node/23520