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video thumbnailABC2020 Presidential General Election previewedBoth candidates close in midwest on pandemicMary BruceWashington DC
video thumbnailCBS2020 Donald Trump campaignAppeals to midwest voters with pandemic fatiguePaula ReidMinnesota
video thumbnailCBS2020 Joe Biden campaignExpands from midwest to Texas; Florida concernsEd O'KeefeNew York
video thumbnailNBCElection procedures, regulations, safety precautionsCDC guidelines for voting during pandemicGabe GutierrezMilwaukee
video thumbnailNBCElection sabotage by foreign nations warningHomeland Security on alert for hacker attacksTom CostelloVirginia
video thumbnailABCElection voting-by-mail logistical worriesState rules require delayed count in Pa, WiscJonathan KarlNew York
video thumbnailCBSElection voting-by-mail logistical worriesRejected ballots, deadlines may suppress voteMajor GarrettNew York
video thumbnailNBCElection voting-by-mail logistical worriesTexas limits on drop-off boxes may suppress voteCynthia McFaddenNo Dateline
video thumbnailABCCorona virus outbreak is global pandemicMidwest hospitals face pandemic fatigue, denialAlex PerezChicago
video thumbnailCBSEarthquake under Aegean Sea: Richter 7.0Shoddy Turkish construction fails; tsunamiHolly WilliamsLondon
AFGHANISTAN HAS NOT BEEN COVERED AS AMERICA'S LONGEST WAR The headlines declared that the fall of Kabul to the Taliban marked The End Of America's Longest War: twenty years of continual bloodshed.

But that is not the message that the actual coverage of the conflict in Afghanistan has delivered over the two decades since 2001.

The network nightly newscasts have not been on a war footing in their coverage of Afghanistan since 2014: for the last seven years they have treated the role of the military there as an afterthought, essentially a routine exercise in training and support, generating little excitement, no noticeable jeopardy and few headlines.

This withdrawal of war correspondents from the field was compounded by a virtual void in diplomatic coverage last year. When negotiations by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo with the Taliban in Doha in February 2020 reached the current commitment to end the US military role in Afghanistan, the three broadcast networks devoted a grand total of five minutes to the promise to bring America's so-called longest war to an historic end.

Five minutes! Such were the demands on the news agenda of the looming coronavirus pandemic in the early spring of 2020. Coverage of all other developments was eclipsed by COVID. The networks had long since given up covering the war as a war. The pandemic meant that they barely paid attention to the prospect of peace.

Before the ignominious throwaway represented by the virtual non-coverage of the Doha talks, the US military deployment in Afghanistan was covered in four distinct phases by the broadcast networks' nightly newscasts (all data here represent minutes of coverage on the weekday nightly newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC since 2001).

Only two of those four phases can be considered to be war coverage proper. Thus for the majority of the twenty years, Afghanistan has been treated as a low-intensity non-newsworthy military deployment, rather than as war itself.

Phase One was war indeed, in the immediate aftermath of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001. Phase Two, stretching from 2003 through 2008, saw Afghanistan presented as a sideshow, overwhelmed by the larger and deadlier invasion of Iraq. Phase Three saw a revival of war coverage, marking then-President Barack Obama's so-called surge of military deployment, peaking in 2009 -- when total coverage actually surpassed 2002 -- and lasting until the surge was drawn down in 2014. Phase Four, from 2015 through 2019, saw the networks withdraw their reporting resources to accompany the Pentagon's drawdown of its surge. The minimal coverage in 2020 marked the almost complete obliteration of Afghanistan from the networks' agenda, drowned out by the tidal wave of coronavirus coverage.

Here are the averages: annual war coverage during Phase One was 638 minutes (CBS in the lead with 281 mins vs ABC 188, NBC 170). During Phase Two, when Iraq dominated, annual war coverage was 82 minutes (NBC 34, ABC 27, CBS 21). CBS led the revival in coverage for Phase Three, Obama's surge: the annual average for those five years was 270 minutes (CBS 114 mins vs ABC 78, NBC 78). Since then, in Phase Four, the war in Afghanistan failed to average even an hour of annual coverage on all three newscasts combined: 58 minutes total (CBS 25, ABC 16, NBC 16).

It should be noted that war correspondents have not represented the entirety of the networks' journalistic efforts in Afghanistan over the past two decades: sidebar coverage to the fighting included internal Afghani politics and culture, education and aid efforts, the role of women, the opium trade and so on. This sidebar coverage added another 10% to 20% to the totals. Thus annual averages for total Afghanistan coverage for the four phases amounts to 685 minutes, 99, 376 and 72: the same narrative trend slightly larger totas.

In which way did the networks err? Were they wrong in downplaying an ongoing war in Phases Two and Four? Or are they exaggerating now when they portray the US involvement in Afghanistan as twenty years of continual bloodshed? My vote is for the latter. The Afghanistan War consisted of two violent periods: President George W Bush's drive to oust the Taliban from power in 2001 and 2002; and Obama's failed surge to put an end once and for all to the Taliban insurgency in 2009 through 2014.

Those two phases can properly be called warfare. The remainder, during which the Taliban insurgency was a low-intensity threat not confronted with full force by the US military, did not deserve the commensurate full attention of war correspondents.

And by the way, since no formal peace treaty has been agreed to -- only a temporary cessation of hostilities -- technically the United States is still at war on the Korean Peninsula: so the Korean War is America's Longest War, closing in on seven decades.

NETWORK NEWSCASTS REINVENT ELECTION COVERAGE Congratulations to the legacy journalists at the old-school broadcast television networks.

Their half-hour nightly newscasts broke from tradition in their coverage of the Presidential election campaign this year. They made a radical shift in favor of democracy. They scaled down their fixation with the activities of the candidates on the stump -- in particular stripping attention away from Donald Trump. And they ramped up their focus on the people in charge: the voters themselves.

As the threats to the integrity of the election mounted, the networks' attention shifted accordingly. Tyndall Report has monitored the nightly newscasts' coverage of each quadrennial election cycle since 1988. Never before in any of the previous eight elections has so much attention been paid to the threats to a free and fair vote, nor to the efforts to secure the vote against any disruption.

During the final two months of the run-up to Election Day, the weekday newscasts of the three broadcast networks (ABC, CBS and NBC combined) devoted more than three hours (186 minutes) to the conduct of the election. In the previous eight cycles, the three newscasts devoted only 148 minutes in total to such issues. Previously the networks' coverage had its eyes on the campaigns, not on the voters.

Here is a rundown of election-focused stories since the start of September. They focused on the warning signs: fears of continued foreign interference, led by Russia; cybersabotage of voting machines and databases; failure of on-time delivery of mail-in ballots; rejection of a legitimate result through allegations of fraud; and, overshadowing all, worries about the health and safety of voting during a pandemic.

But the coverage also emphasized possible remedies: the precautions of intelligence operatives and software security; preparations to handle the huge influx of absentee ballots; widespread early voting, registration drives and get-out-the-vote mobilization; and social distancing protocols at voting precincts.

NBC, with its Vote Watch series of features, spent more time on this type of election coverage than its two rivals (75 mins v ABC 54, CBS 57). But all three stepped up their efforts significantly. At the same time all three networks scaled back their coverage of the candidates and their campaigns.

Clearly, the towering impact of the coronavirus pandemic has transformed every facet of life during 2020. It would have been impossible for the news assignment agenda at the network nightly newscasts not to be transformed too. In the first ten months of 2020, the coronavirus alone -- not counting its knock-on effects on the economy, public schools and colleges, sports and entertainment, restaurants and transportation -- has occupied more than a quarter of the nightly newscasts' entire newshole (3,308 minutes out of 12K). Here is a rundown.

Campaign 2020, during the first ten months of the year, took an extreme cut in coverage. Over the last eight cycles, the Presidential campaign has attracted a three-network average of more than 40 hours of nightly news coverage (2,513 minutes, ranging from a high of 3,531 for Obama-McCain in '08 to a low of 1,772 for Clinton-Dole in '96). This year the cutbacks have been so severe, that the first ten months logged a three-network total of only 969 minutes -- a cutback of more than 60%.

The average coverage for the final two months' run-up has been 741 minutes; this year the total was a mere 359 and here is that rundown. All the more remarkable, then, that the networks found that room in their newshole to transfer their attention from the conduct of the campaigns to the conduct of the election itself.

The withdrawal of attention from Campaign 2020 has fallen most harshly on Donald Trump. What a transformation: four years ago, in 2016, the Trump Campaign broke records for the amount of airtime it attracted. Of the 16 nominees in the eight cycles in Tyndall Report's database, none came close to the 1,099 minutes of coverage of Trump '16 (three-network totals for the first ten months of each year). By contrast, an average nominee in a race with an open seat attracted less than half Trump's airtime (511 mins).

Having overcovered him so egregiously in 2016, perhaps the networks' campaign desks were overcompensating. Granted, incumbent Presidents running for reelection always attract less attention than their challengers or than candidates running when the office is open. An incumbent President does not usually have to compete in primaries so receives less airtime in springtime. Furthermore, much of the coverage that incumbents receive is in their capacity as President not as candidate: the Rose Garden necessitates less time on the stump.

Nevertheless, even compared with previous incumbents (Bush in '92, Clinton in '96, Bush in '04, Obama in '12), Trump's Campaign '20 has been given short shrift. In the first ten months of 2020, the Trump Campaign attracted a scant 112 minutes on the three nightly newscasts, compared with an average of 271 minutes for those other four incumbents running for reelection.

That's a decline from 1,099 minutes in 2016 to 112 minutes in 2020.

To a lesser extent than the cuts Trump suffered, two of the other three staples of campaign coverage have also been scaled back during this pandemic year. The two parties' nominating conventions -- obliged to be held virtually and delegate-free -- obviously made less news than usual. In an average campaign year since 1988, the two conventions attracted 234 minutes combined; this year their total was only 111.

Equally, the average campaign of a challenger to an incumbent seeking a second term (Clinton in '92, Dole in '96, Kerry in '04, Romney in '12) received 408 minutes of coverage in that year's first ten months. Joe Biden, social distancing with a facemask in his basement, logged just half that amount: 194 minutes.

On the other hand, one aspect of the campaign year has remained stubbornly true to form. The debates. Even though the second meeting was canceled when Trump refused to participate in an online format, the traditional fall highlights of a campaign season held the same headlines that they always have. In the previous eight cycles, the Presidential debates attracted an average of 103 minutes of coverage. Amid all this change, some things stay the same. This year their total was 101. That's within the margin of error, as the saying goes.

Now let's hope that the admirable job the networks have done to alert their viewers to the dangers of a free and fair election pays dividends. Here's to a small-d democratic outcome.