Week Six of the Grand Rapids Press coverage of the Obama administration took a departure from the previous week, with the focus shifting to the US occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
There were a total of 17 stories for the week of February 23 through March 1st. President Barack Obama’s first speech before Congress on February 24 received the most single stories, but foreign policy dominated the coverage in week six with a total of seven stories. Here is a breakdown of what articles appeared on the new administration:
- 5 stories on Obama’s speech before Congress
- 3 stories on Iraq
- 3 stories on Afghanistan
- 3 stories on the economy
The Speech before Congress
There were three stories about the President’s upcoming speech, with the first story from the New York Times on February 23. This article relied heavily on White House spokespersons, like Rahm Emanuel, who said, “Everybody has to have the notion that to make the system better, you’re going to have to give a little,” when talking about the economy.
The second pre-speech story also used White House spokespersons, with the focus being on what the President would say in his speech about reducing the deficit. This story, from the Associated Press, was quite technical and also sourced experts from the Brookings Institute and Moody’s Economy.com.
The Grand Rapids Press used the President’s speech as an opportunity to write two articles with a local perspective. They spoke with people before and after the speech to get some impression of what people are thinking about what the President can realistically do about the economy. In the February 24 article, Press reporter Ted Roelofs spoke with an auto worker who last her job recently, a CEO of a local manufacturing company, and Congressman Pete Hoekstra. Hoekstra was given more space in the story and was critical of the Obama administration’s ability to stabilize the economy.
The main speech story ran on the front page of February 24 with the headline, “Balancing Hope with Urgency.” the Washington Post article was framed, like much of the news coverage in recent months, as a comparison between FDR and Barack Obama. The story says:
“Not since Franklin Roosevelt delivered his first fireside chat, eight days into his presidency, have Americans been more hungry — and more desperate — for economic leadership. And not since FDR has there been an economic agenda as bold or ambitious, or as likely to reshape American capitalism.”
However, there was no examination of the content of his speech, nor how it would “reshape American Capitalism.” The article mostly focused on how “well crafted” the speech was. The reporter also commented that the President’s speech “reinforced the image of a serious and purposeful leader.”
Obama on Iraq & Afghanistan
Week six of the new administration gave the public the first concrete comments from President Obama on the US occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan since he took office.
On February 26, the President laid out his plan for US troop withdrawal from Iraq. However, the story framed the plan as one of “ending the war in Iraq.” Even the headline for February 27 ran as “Obama sets date to end Iraq war.” The article never clarifies how it would “end the war in Iraq,” but it does mention that, “a sizable U.S. force of 35,000 to 50,000 U.S. troops will stay in Iraq under a new mission of training, civilian protection and counterterrorism.”
We have already provided a critique of the Iraq withdrawal plan and unlike our critique, the AP story that ran in the Press did not seek any responses from the national anti-war organizations, many of whom endorsed the President’s candidacy. Instead, the Press ran a follow up story from the Associated Press on February 28 that was written by the AP reporter while visiting a US military base in Iraq. While it is important to solicit the views of US troops on the new Iraq withdrawal plan, shouldn’t the anti-war organizations also be given an opportunity to comment on the new policy?
Afghanistan was also the focus of three stories than ran during the sixth week of the Press coverage of the new administration. The first was a February 27 article from the Washington Post that reported on a recent poll showing that most Americans support the increase of US troops to Afghanistan. The article said the Washington Post and ABC-News conducted the poll, but the story doesn’t provide much information on the poll results nor does it give readers a clear sense of the questions asked to those polled.
The other two articles that focused on Afghanistan were both run on March 1st, with one story focusing on an increase in US troop deaths and the other on Afghan civilian deaths. However, the two articles are framed in a completely different way. The AP story that focused on US troop deaths in Afghanistan was headlined, “US Deaths on rise in Afghanistan” while the story focused on civilian deaths was headlined as, “US airstrikes sometimes backfire in Afghanistan.”
The US troops deaths in Afghanistan, according to the AP story, are the result of “an increasingly violent insurgency,” while Afghan civilian deaths are because the Afghan insurgents “are wily.” the New York Times article, a story written by the reporter from a US aircraft carrier, only cites US military personnel who say the insurgents, “will meld themselves within the population. They will fire from areas that they know that if we put a bomb there, it’s going to look bad.” The whole article is framed to suggest that the US military campaign in Afghanistan only kills civilians by accident or because the Taliban insurgents hide amongst the population. This notion seems in conflict with a report from Human Rights Watch, which documents civilian deaths due to US/NATO air strikes.