NEW YORK – Television viewers are showing their first signs of war fatigue, according to a poll released Friday.
The number of people who say it tires them out to watch war coverage was 42 percent from Tuesday to Thursday this week. Less than a third of poll respondents said that on Sunday and Monday, according to the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press.
Pew's surveys also found a steady increase in viewers who found the coverage "frightening to watch." Fifty-eight percent of respondents agreed with that statement in the most recent poll, versus 51 percent earlier in the week.
The conflict is unplowed ground for the media: the first war covered full time by three cable news networks in the United States.
"The issue is how will [viewers] cope?" said Pew's director, Andrew Kohut. "Will they stop watching? Will it lead to less support for the war?"
The war's television appeal has faded since the first bombs fell, but it's still a potent draw. Roughly 7 million people watched Fox News Channel, CNN and MSNBC on Wednesday, compared to the 2 million who watch those networks on a typical day, according to Nielsen Media Research.
Broadcast networks aren't giving the war the same intense attention, but break in for special reports and often put on one-hour prime-time specials.
"CNN's mission is not going to change," spokeswoman Christa Robinson said. "We're obviously committed to covering this story completely."
The constant television airing of the war has already led to questions about whether TV is distorting the event's reality, or causing unrealistic expectations. The Bush administration expressed frustration Friday with some press reports questioning why the military operation isn't already over.
MSNBC is trying to take frequent steps back in its coverage so viewers get a sense of the big picture instead of bits and pieces provided by individual reporters, said Erik Sorenson, the network's president.
MSNBC also hopes to leaven the constant stories from the front by interviewing families of soldiers in the United States and collecting pictures of those fighting.
Ultimately, though, it's not on the top of his agenda to worry about the anxieties of his viewers.
"It's really not my job to be a therapist or psychologist," Sorenson said. "It's my job to provide the news."
Pew's study is based on nationwide telephone interviews of 2,034 adults conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates from March 20-27. The margin of error is plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.