Iraq: The 25-Second War


Although many considered the November presidential election a referendum on Iraq, that would have been hard to tell by the time devoted to the war in local TV newscasts.

Of 44 network affiliate evening newscasts studied in 11 markets, stations averaged 25 seconds of Iraq war coverage per newscast. The only story given less coverage was foreign policy, at 13 seconds.

The presidential election got almost five times that coverage at two minutes, though local races barely beat it out at 30 seconds. Iraq was also beaten out by sports, weather, health, crime, injury, economy, "other," and even bumpers, teases and intro music.

That's according to a new study by the Norman Lear Center (Annenberg School of Communications) and the NewsLab of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

That study was reported to the FCC last week as part of the commission's open inquiry on broadcast localism and is expected to be used by media consolidation foes to argue against more consolidation..

Parts of the study suggesting underreporting of local races--8% of the over-4,000 newscasts studied covered local elections, the study found--are also expected to be used by Senator John McCain. Campaign reformer McCain, who has been pushing stations to do more election coverage, is planning to talk about the study at a press conference in Washington Tuesday.

According to the report, the typical pre-election newscast broke down this way:

  • Ads:  8 minutes
  • Sports/weather:  6 minutes
  • Elections:  3 minutes, 11 seconds
  • Crime:  2 minutes, 34 seconds
  • Local interest : 1 minute, 56 seconds
  • Teasers, intros:  1 minute, 43 seconds
  • Health:  1 minute, 22 seconds
  • Other:  1 minute, 12 seconds
  • Injury: 55 seconds
  • Business/economy: 47 seconds
  • Iraq:  25 seconds
  • Foreign policy:  13 seconds