September 24, 2009

Bloggers Focus on Obama’s Opposition

PEJ New Media Index September 14-18

From public protests to race to health care, domestic issues dominated the commentary from bloggers last week. Combined, the three topics made up almost half (46%) of the links the week of September 14-18,  according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

It was not a discussion of the issues themselves, however, but a debate about the motives and extent of the President’s opposition that drove the conversation online. That debate was triggered by a remark about race and politics, a large protest in Washington D.C. and a censure of a Congressman who heckled Obama. The events and ensuing commentary rolled out sequentially during the course of the week.

First, on Monday, came the response to the Tea Party protests held in Washington, D.C. over the weekend. Many bloggers voiced sympathy with the protestors and accused much of the media of downplaying a major event. While they had largely moved on to other matters after Monday, the subject still ranked third for the week, receiving 13% of the links.

On Tuesday it was a health care story about recent poll numbers that drove bloggers’ assessments of Obama’s political fortunes. A second story about Congressional action taken against Joe Wilson (R-SC) for his outburst during the President’s September 9 speech on health care triggered additional discussion on Thursday. Together the two health care stories ranked fifth for the week at 5%.

On Wednesday, the biggest topic of the week emerged, garnering 28% of the links. It was the reaction to statements by former President Jimmy Carter that racism played a role in some of the opposition toward Obama. Much of the online commentary took Carter to task for those sentiments.

Together, the discussion surrounding these three storylines amounted to a week spent in large part assessing the president’s standing with the American public.

Some of these topics also showed up prominently in other social media outlets, including Twitter and YouTube. On YouTube, the second most-viewed news video was of CNN correspondent Lisa Desjardins being drowned out during a live report from the Tea Party protests, while the fourth most viewed video was of the Joe Wilson incident during the September 9 speech. On Twitter, the report about Carter’s remarks on race was the fifth-largest subject of the week, receiving 6% of the news-focused links.

The political focus in the blogosphere was also echoed in the mainstream press. According to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, the health care debate was the top subject, filling 17% of the week’s newshole, while questions about Obama and race constituted the fourth-largest subject, at 5%.

The two other stories that received significant attention in blogs last week were of a very different nature and involved celebrities. The second largest story, with 16% of the week’s links, was the death of Patrick Swayze due to pancreatic cancer. Bloggers shared their favorite memories and movies of the actor and dancer.

The fourth-largest story (9%) involved British comedian Eddie Izzard who had just finished an amazing achievement of running 43 marathons in 51 days, despite limited training and preparation. 

On Twitter, the trend of users focusing on technology stories, most specifically Twitter itself, continued. The top story, with 19% of the news-related links, detailed how users will soon be able to make phone calls on Twitter with a new third-party application known as Jajah@call. This is the sixth time in the last seven weeks that a story about Twitter has finished among the top three subjects.

The second-largest topic on Twitter (at 12%) involved several stories about a different networking site-Facebook. These included stories about the coming of a voice-chat option to the site along with a CNN video about a new function called "status tagging."

Obama and Racism

When Jimmy Carter said in a September 15 speech at Emory University that race was playing a role in some of the protests and opposition to Obama, it served as a trigger for a heated online debate.

Some bloggers said it took courage for Carter to voice such statements.

"I’m glad he said it because that is the ‘elephant in the living room’ and it took a Southern white gentleman with nothing to lose to put that reality on the table," applauded Ellie Finlay at Child of Illusion. "…a lot of the hysteria out there is about race-especially all that nonsense about people keeping their children home from school to keep them from seeing their president give a speech on television."

"This perception of him [Obama] as ‘the other’ has to have an effect on their level of anger and yes, fear," agreed Mauigirl. "The continual claims that Obama is a Muslim, that he wasn’t born in this country despite all the evidence that he was, are evidence of this. When people protested against FDR, LBJ or Clinton, this aspect was not part of the conversation."

More common though was criticism of Carter’s claims, and some bloggers attacked Carter personally.

"Our opposition to Pres. Obama’s policies is not about race," declared Jeffrey A. Setaro. "We simply have fundamentally different vision of the role government and as Americans we have a God given, constitutionally protected right to disagree."*

"Carter’s words only show what an idiot, and removed from reality, Carter has become," affirmed Common Fold Using Common Sense. "This is an important issue, for it illuminates exactly why the Obama’s poll numbers are falling like a rock…The Left just cannot understand, not accept, that the problem between the Obama administration and Joe Sixpack is not race, but rather that the general public does not like what Obama is saying in his speeches and does not like the direction he is trying to move the country."

"You’d think Carter would be a little more careful when slinging around charges of racism," wrote Sharon at Gold-Plated Witch on Wheels, "but Carter, at 85, is a bitter, twisted, nasty individual who should be the first volunteer for the death panels. Yes, I said that."

The Size of the Tea Party Protests

Many of the bloggers who commented on the September 12 protests asserted that the event represented a major groundswell of opposition to the President.

Initially, some also hammered the media for failing to cover such a big event and argued that the press underestimated the size of the crowd. Many linked to a Washington Post report that stated that "tens of thousands" of protestors turned up to protest Obama and express concerns that the country was moving toward socialism.

"They [the Washington Post] refused to actually receive an estimate of the people involved in the rally," complained Jason at the Tree of Liberty. "I gave my estimate based on the area covered with people at around 1 million (1.5M assuming even coverage of the space involved)…One thing is certain: local law enforcement was not ready for the sheer volume of people."

"There was a huge protest in DC with an estimated 1.3 to 2 million people descending on the Capitol to protest out of control government and its out of control spending," wrote Big Dog’s Weblog. "The protests were about the health care overhaul as well as the stimulus, the cap and trade and all the other items that have led to a deficit of 1.3 TRILLION dollars. People have awakened to how out of control government is, a condition that is not specific to any one party."

Eventually, independent media reports concluded that the attendance was smaller than many bloggers had estimated and more in line with the mainstream media reports.  As the fact-checking site PoliFact.com detailed, many bloggers had originally relied on a picture to show the size of the protest which was actually of a 1997 rally. A number of bloggers had also cited an ABC News which they said estimated the crowd size as large as 1.5 million. The network, however, issued a report saying it was falsely quoted and never claimed the crowd was that large. 

A few bloggers, including Big Dog’s Weblog, revised their estimates, even if they also used the occasion to criticize their political opponents.

After acknowledging that many of the initial crowd reports were not supported, Michelle Malkin added, "If only they [the left] were as vigilant about policing other figures – e.g., the "47 million uninsured" statistic…"

YouTube

The most popular news clip on YouTube last week was one that generated a lot of conversation around the proverbial water cooler.

During the September 13 MTV Video Music Awards, rapper Kanye West made headlines by interrupting singer Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech after she had won the award for Best Female Video.  

"I’m really happy for you. I’m going to let you finish," blurted out West after taking the stage. "But Beyoncé had one of the best videos of all time."

The moment was so unexpected and memorable that many people weighed in on West’s actions including President Obama. Obama was quoted during an off-the-record conversation as referring to West as a "jackass" for his actions.

Note: To see the report about the Kanye West moment on YouTube, click here.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

September 12-18, 2009

1. A report about the September 13 MTV Video Music Awards that includes the moment when Kanye West interrupted Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech

2. CNN Capitol Hill correspondent Lisa Desjardins is drowned out by the crowd at the September 12 Tea Party protest

3. Actor Charlie Sheen delivers a video message asking for an independent investigation into unanswered questions about 9/11

4. Moment of Obama’s September 9 speech to Congress when Joe Wilson yelled, "You lie!"

5. Undercover video investigation into the Baltimore chapter of ACORN

 



The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ has launched the New Media Index as a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket which, monitors millions of blogs, using the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links weekday each day.   They capture the top five linked-to stories on each list (50 stories in all each week), and reads, watches or listens to these posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index. It follows the same coding methodology as that of the NCI. This process allows us to compare the New Media commentary, based on the Icerocket list of links, with the commentary in the traditional press.  Note: When the NMI was launched in January 2009, another web-tracking site Technorati was similarly monitoring blogs and social media. PEJ originally captured both Technorati’s and Icerocket’s daily aggregation. In recent months, though, this component of Technorati’s site has been down with no indication of when it might resume. 

The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader’s attention to it. PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on links and analyzing the results.

For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitored the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket and Technorati, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Technorati and Icerocket, PEJ captured the five most popular linked-to pages each weekday under the heading of "news" as determined by Tweetmeme’s method of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links. (One minor difference is that Tweetmeme offers the top links over the prior 24 hours while the lists used on Technorati and Icerocket offer the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news video on YouTube each week.  

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings.

Note: PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index includes Sunday newspapers while the New Media Index is Monday through Friday.