TV coverage fatigues some
Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 31, 2003 at 11:17 p.m.
How much is too much information about the war in Iraq? And how many military briefings, views of the bombings, and opportunities for talking-head analysis are too much?
These are questions posed by the current war in Iraq, the first war to be covered around the clock by multiple cable news networks. And many people say they're starting to tune out.
"I've had enough," University of Florida freshman Roxanne Mullon said while sitting in the field in front of the Reitz Union at lunchtime Monday. "I've just stopped watching."
Mullon said she normally likes to get her news from cable news outlets such as CNN, but the saturation coverage of Operation Iraqi Freedom has left her sour.
And she's not alone.
Julie Burgevin, 40, of Archer said she finds TV news coverage of the war repetitive and sad.
"It's as if they're trying to cover the war like it's a reality (TV) show," she said. But real life is not a TV show, she added.
That people become burned out on television coverage is no surprise, said Garret Evans, an associate professor of clinical psychology at the National Rural Behavioral Center at UF.
"The more people watch traumatizing events, the more they get numb to it," Evans said, citing studies that looked at the change in children after watching violence on TV.
"But people don't want to become numb," he said.
Many people realize the importance of the Iraqi conflict, so they try to tune it out and prevent themselves from getting too desensitized, according to Evans.
Slow pace of war
Another element that causes people to avoid TV news outlets is that the pace of the war has proved to be relatively slow, Evans said.
"People aren't rushing to update themselves," he added, because they see new developments aren't occurring that quickly.
UF journalism professor Jon Roosenraad agrees.
Since the coalition forces began their "shock and awe" campaign on March 19, the war hasn't been going as swiftly as some had anticipated, he said.
Roosenraad also said he questioned the idea of round-the-clock coverage on the basis of substance.
"I don't know why anybody would do that," he said. "There's not 24 hours (worth) of stuff going on."
Although major cable news outlets have been attracting some of their largest audiences since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, surveys back up the notion that war fatigue is setting in.
Forty-two percent of people polled last week said it "tires them out" to watch war coverage.
Less than one-third said the same thing in the first days of the war, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Pew's surveys also found a steady increase in viewers - 45 percent to 58 percent - who found the coverage "frightening to watch."
The violence of war coverage - whether it is images of downed helicopters or of U.S. soldiers taken prisoner - concerns Gainesville parent Grace O'Hara.
As a mother of six - the youngest is 9 years old, the oldest is 27 - O'Hara said she doesn't watch much war coverage because she wants to shield her children from it.
"If I turn it on, it's late at night," O'Hara said.
O'Hara said she understands that children will learn about the war but prefers it be in small doses.
"(The war coverage) is on all the time," she said. "They (the kids) don't need to be exposed to it all the time."
But not everybody says the war is overexposed on TV.
Michael Hunt, 29, of Gainesville said he watches a "great deal" of news and feels the war coverage is just right.
Hunt added that he liked the new wrinkle that has been added to news coverage during this war - "embedded" reporters.
Unlike the first Gulf War, when journalists were kept away from the front, journalists are now "embedded" with military units and equipped with the technology to transmit reports and images from the field.
"As long as they don't reveal our troops' strategies, I feel it's a good thing to have open coverage of the events occurring over there," Hunt said.
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