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Holding our attention span long enough to support an unpalatable task

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Holding the attention of any US administration and its traditionally parochial electorate long enough to complete a "generation of rebuilding" needed to set Iraq and the Middle East on a new course is a massive, almost impossible task, especially when that rebuilding is not performed to our script or timing.

Speaking of our attention to Iraq, Howard Kurtz offered one of the better stat sets that I have seen on the transient attention of the news, or what I like to call "the lens of the news, a brilliant white dot that crawls an otherwise blacked out room."

By 26 April, Lycos Search reported that SARS was the most requested search term, followed by Kazaa, tattoos, Dragonball and the NFL. The Iraq war fell to 17th on their list, as searches for information about the conflict dropped 40 percent. Al-Jazeera and Saddam Hussein fell off the list after five weeks.

The First Gulf War is indicative: Iraq disappeared from daily coverage within six months of the end of the war. Network reporting was down to 48 minutes in August 1991 from a high of 1,177 minutes at war's outbreak in January 1991. Afghan coverage is down to 1 minute from 28 minutes in February 2002 and 306 minutes in November 2001.

And of course you remember Peru, Haiti, Grenada, Panama, Somalia, East Timor, and Aceh, don't you? Surely Northern Ireland? Unremitting famine and AIDS in Africa? And this attention span is going to bring us the political and financial will to remake the Middle East? You say things will be different now, now that we have suffered September 11. I say that I have some exquisite beachfront Arctic property to show you.

For Media After Iraq, A Case of Shell Shock
Battle Assessment Begins For Saturation Reporting
By Howard Kurtz
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 28, 2003; Page A01

Gordon Housworth



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