July 27, 2008

AP’s ‘US Now Winning Iraq War’ Analysis Getting Light Exposure

Robert Burns and Robert H. Reid created quite a stir in the blogosphere yesterday with their dispatch from Baghdad, “Analysis: US now winning Iraq war that seemed lost.” NewsBusters colleague Noel Sheppard accurately called it a “stop the presses” story, and ended his post with an important perspective that you really must read if you haven’t already.

Now that the story has had one overnight news cycle since its appearance at about 9 AM yesterday, I looked around to see how much coverage Burns’s and Reid’s work received.

I looked at what the three “newspapers of record” did (if anything) with the AP item; searched Google News for other coverage; and reviewed headline revisions made by outlets that carried it.

What I found is that the “newspapers of record” have given the pair’s analysis attention ranging from short shrift to omission. Additionally, the number of outlets around the country that are carrying Burns’s and Reid’s piece is much lighter than saturation. Finally, there seems to be a bit more revising of the item’s headline going on than I have normally seen done to an AP work; those revisions overwhelmingly serve to understate the impact of Burns’s and Reid’s content.

All of these items in combination lead me to believe that some journalists around this great land of ours are not handling what Burns and Reid laid out very well.

First, let’s look at what’s left of the three “newspapers of record,” and see what they have done:

  • The AP analysis is not in the print edition of today’s New York Times., Instead, the Times has a story by Sabrina Tavernise (“Shiite Militia in Baghdad Sees Its Power Ebb”). In nearly 2,000 words chronicling the decline of the Mahdi Army and its leader, Moktada al-Sadr, Tavernise “somehow” forgot to mention an important point that Burns and Reid noted, namely that “Al-Sadr and top lieutenants are now in Iran.” In fact, the word “Iran” does not appear in Tavernise’s story, as the Times appears to be clinging to its foreign influence-free “civil war” fantasy.
  • The Washington Post is carrying the AP analysis online, but not in its print edition’s “A” section. The Post does have a Page A15 story on Raid Juhi Hamadi al-Saedi, the judge who presided over Saddam Hussein’s trial.
  • The Los Angeles Times, based on a search on the first eight words of the AP analysis (“The United States is now winning the war” – not in quotes), is not carrying it at its web site. Burn’s and Reid’s work is not on the Times’s front page, nor is it anywhere else in the “A” section. There is a front-page article (“U.S. war on terrorism loses ground in Pakistan”) with this dour assessment: “The Bush administration may leave the region the same way it found it, with Al Qaeda entrenched and U.S. intelligence officials frustrated.”

As to other news coverage, a Google News search on “Associated Press Iraq” (not in quotes) at 9 AM ET returned the article in its results, and had a link indicating “206 related articles.” That link led to a results page with two items, but after selecting “Sort by date with duplicates included,” there were 188 results.

That’s not awful, but I’ve seen plenty of AP reports get covered in over 1,000 outlets.

What’s also interesting is what some of them did with AP’s original headline. The alternatives chosen by many AP subscribers seemed mostly to dilute the message in the original headline, which in my opinion was not strong enough in the first place:

The New London (CT) Day — “Are we winning the unwinnable war?”

Arizona (Tucson) Daily Star — “Focus shifts away from combat”

Peoria (IL) Journal Star — “Inching along to victory in Iraq”

Salt Lake City Deseret News — “Is U.S. now winning war in Iraq?”

Fort Worth Star Telegram — “Iraq war’s tide appears to have turned in favor of US”

Newsday (Long Island, NY) — “Analysis: U.S. can shift from combat to peace in Iraq”

WCSH-TV in Maine — “Signs Indicate US Winning War In Iraq”

The Wenatchee (WA) World Online — “Tide seems to be turned in Iraq”

Leave it to the Christian Broadcasting Network to go in a more positive direction. Its headline, “Analysis: US Now Winning Iraq War,” dropped the “That Seemed Lost” that Burns and Reid supplied — just as Noel Sheppard did at NewsBusters yesterday.

Perhaps the most important takeaways from what I have presented here are these:

  • AP’s decision to run the story on a Saturday greatly reduced its exposure. Though it can’t be proven, it apears that the authors may have had what they needed to complete their work in time to send it over the wires on Friday morning US time. They indicated that they spoke to General Petraeus “this past week,” and to US ambassador to Iraq Crocker on Thursday. They did provide a troop casualty figure as of Friday, but that figure could have been provided as of a couple of days earlier without affecting the analysis.
  • The relatively few outlets carrying the story, and the headline dilutions done at some of them, probably mean that the 85% of Americans who don’t closely follow the news are not going to be aware of what Burns and Reid wrote.

Cross-posted at NewsBusters.org.

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