Editor’s Note: A version of this article first appeared in the “Reliable Sources” newsletter. Sign up for the daily digest chronicling the evolving media landscape here.
When was the last time you saw a live television news report from Ukraine? It’s likely been a while.
The raging war in the Middle East has put the prolonged war in Eastern Europe largely on the back burner, in terms of media coverage, with Vladimir Putin’s campaign of brutality against Ukraine receiving much less attention from the press than it did prior to the Israel-Hamas conflict breaking out.
Closed-captioning data from the Internet Television Archive, which was analyzed by the GDELT Project, showed that on cable news, coverage of the Ukraine war plummeted dramatically after Hamas’ shocking Oct. 7 terror attack. In the days before the Israel-Hamas war, the battle in Ukraine amounted to about eight percent of CNN’s television coverage. After the attacks, CNN —the cable news network that provided the most Ukraine coverage — fell to under one percent.
As the chaos to elect a new House speaker ensnared Washington, there was a notable uptick in mentions of Ukraine on cable news networks — but the focus of the coverage mostly pertained to U.S. funding of the embattled nation, not the actual state of play in the war.
Data provided by ComScore, an Internet analytics firm, showed a similar trend play out online. The data indicated that there has been a significant drop in discussion on social media about the Ukraine war since the onset of the Israel-Hamas conflict, though it also indicated that in general, there had been a lull in attention to Putin’s invasion in recent months.
The noted drop in Ukraine war coverage from the press, given the fresh violence in the Middle East, is not completely surprising. The horrific acts of violence Hamas carried out in Israel has shocked the world, arresting the attention of those who normally pay little regard to global affairs. U.S. outlets have also been juggling several other important stories in the last several weeks, including disarray in Congress, Donald Trump’s legal issues and a monstrous mass shooting in Maine.
But, at the same time, the drop in attention paid to Ukraine has been nothing short of a boon for Putin. The authoritarian Russian leader, who has committed unspeakable atrocities as his forces invade a sovereign nation, has been able to wage his war with far less scrutiny on his appalling actions.
Paul Kolbe, a senior fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs in Harvard Kennedy School, who served for 25 years in the Central Intelligence Agency, told me that Putin must be “delighted” that the war between Israel and Hamas “is diverting US attention” as Russia “continues to strike Ukrainian cities and civilian targets.”
“Even as Western press coverage of war in Ukraine wanes, Russia fills the vacuum in reporting with its own campaign of distributing lies and disinformation,” Kolbe said. “Putin’s strategy is to wear down Western patience and support, play upon U.S. domestic divisions, and to prey upon those in NATO which harbor latent Russian sympathies.”
In addition to the kinetic military action, Putin is also waging an information war, using all the tools at his disposal to lie about and sanitize the acts of savagery being committed against a civilian population under his orders. As Kolbe told me, “Putin’s media campaign to paint Ukraine as divided, corrupt, and a puppet of the U.S. and NATO, is a central part” of his strategy.
The lack of press attention makes that all the more easier.