NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 28, 2008

Periods of intense news media coverage in the United States of criticism about the war in Iraq, or of polling about public opinion on the conflict, are followed by a small but quantifiable increases in the number of attacks on civilians and U.S. forces in Iraq, according to a study by Radha Iyengar, a Robert Wood Johnson Scholar in health policy research at Harvard University, and Jonathan Monten of the Belfer Center at the university's Kennedy School of Government.

Other findings:

  • The increase in attacks is more pronounced in areas of Iraq that have better access to international news media.
  • In Iraqi provinces that were broadly comparable in social and economic terms, attacks increased between 7 percent and 10 percent following what the researchers call "high-mention weeks," like the two just before the November 2006 election.

On a related note, the New York Times reports that the media aren't paying as much attention to Iraq as they used to:

  • Media attention on Iraq began to wane after the first months of fighting, but as recently as the middle of last year, it was still the most-covered topic.
  • Since then, Iraq coverage by major American news sources has plummeted to about one-fifth of what it was last summer, according to the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

If the Harvard study is right, we may be looking at a virtuous circle: Less violence means less media coverage, which in turn means less violence, says the Wall Street Journal.  Perhaps one day we'll wake up to discover that America won the war in Iraq months earlier, but no one noticed because the reporters were all busy with other things.

Source: James Taranto, "The 'Emboldenment Effect,' " Wall Street Journal, March 25, 2008; based upon: Radha Iyengar and Jonathan Monten, "Is There an 'Emboldenment' Effect? Evidence from the Insurgency in Iraq," Harvard University, February 2008.

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