Iraq too dangerous, expensive for TV nets to cover
Nick Juliano
Published: Monday December 29, 2008

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The war in Iraq, nearly into its sixth year, has become too expensive and remains too dangerous for US television networks to justify maintaining full-time correspondents in the war zone.

ABC, NBC and CBS have dramatically curtailed their presence in Iraq, where 130,000 US troops remain, and the networks are shifting their attention to Afghanistan, the New York Times' Brian Stelter reports Monday.

Waning attention from the public and the lack of compelling images from a war zone where violence has significantly decreased are partly responsible for the networks' decisions, Stelter reports. Furthermore, although fewer US troops are dying in Iraq it remains perhaps the most dangerous place in the world for journalists, and networks are having a tougher time justifying the large security details Iraq correspondents require.

Television networks are not alone in their waning interest in the protracted Iraq war. As Seth Mnookin notes in Vanity Fair, many newspapers and magazines, including the San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, and Time have curtailed or eliminated their Baghdad bureaus, as well. Among US media outlets, according to Mnookin, the New York Times is virtually alone in maintaining nearly as many reporters in Iraq as when the war began.

The 24-hour cable networks Fox News and CNN each still have a single full-time correspondent in Iraq, and the wire services along with the Washington Post maintain their own multi-reporter bureaus.

The decrease in reporters has corresponded with a decrease in coverage. Evening newscasts spent 423 minutes on Iraq this year compared to 1,888 minutes in 2007, Andrew Tyndall, a television news consultant, told the Times.

The changing coverage situation is in part a reaction to the changing situation on the ground in Iraq. Instead of dramatic daily gun battles between US troops and insurgents, much of the daily developments involve local political squabbles.

Gawker's Alex Pareen says that the waning coverage may not be the worse possible outcome.

Not that it's all that bad. The best work a full-time TV correspondent can do in a war zone is cut through government propaganda and expose how shitty the situation is (most wars are shitty). That job was finished about three years ago (two years too late, but still), forcing a change of strategy and hopefully slightly hastening the eventual withdrawal of most of our combat troops there. Now, of course, the networks could go ahead and waste cash on war correspondents, but why bother when nothing they file will end up in the nightly news? Unless a shoe is thrown at the president, obv. But sectarian politicking and turf battles do not good television make. The medium itself is ill-suited to intelligently covering whatever the hell the Iraq situation is.
A former CNN bureau chief, Jane Arraf, told Stelter that an editor bemoaned the "same old pictures of soldiers kicking down doors" earlier in the war, when troops were hunting for al Qaeda sympathizers and insurgents.

"You can imagine how much more tedious it would be to watch soldiers running meetings on irrigation," she quipped.