War on Television

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The United States has not declared war but you wouldn’t know it to watch the news. A new content analysis of American media shows that American TV news has devoted more time to the conflict in Ukraine in the last month than any other month of any other war, with the exception of the 1999 Kosovo campaign.

The study found that the three major networks, ABC, CBS and NBC, devoted 562 minutes of coverage to this conflict in just one month. That is more than the Iraq war ever received at its peak coverage of 455 minutes and nearly double the time devoted to the invasion of Panama in 1989 (240 minutes).

This is noteworthy because American news devotes less time to foreign events than ever. War in Yemen, Somalia and Ethiopia are currently raging at the same time as the war in Ukraine and all are far bloodier but these conflicts get very little coverage if any.

So why this disproportionate attention? Researcher Andrew Tyndall says that a lot of it has to do with the media-savvy of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. The conflict in Ukraine, he says, “has overturned all normal patterns of journalistic response…It is a demonstration of Zelensky’s perceived newsworthiness that both ABC World News Tonight and NBC Nightly News decided to assign their anchors to an extended interview with him, despite the fact that he would not be speaking English, meaning that the audio would consist of the stilted tones of a simultaneous translator.”

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