November 19, 2009

Health Care and Fort Hood Dominate the Blogs

PEJ New Media Index November 9-13, 2009

For the second week in a row, the fallout from the November 5 Fort Hood shooting was a major topic in the blogosphere. But it had to compete with the health care bill in the House, which triggered opposition from conservative commentators and mixed feelings from liberal bloggers upset about an amendment that prohibited federal funds for abortions.

For the week of November 9-13, 22% of the links in blogs and social media were to news-related stories about health care reform according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. This marks only the second time since the NMI began in January 2009 that the health care debate was the No. 1 topic in the blogosphere and social media. The first occurred during the week of August 10-14 (23% of the links) when supporters and opponents of President Obama’s health care goals traded accusations of deception and dishonesty.

Drawing almost as much attention, 20% of the links, was the Fort Hood attack. Attention here focused on the accused shooter, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan. The tone and tenor of the online conversation in many ways mirrored that of talk radio and cable television last week. In both the new media and the talk media in mainstream press, the case had become something of a cultural and ideological wedge issue. Many bloggers were eager to proclaim the attack as part of an Islamic Jihad against the U.S. and accused those less willing to do so of dangerously downplaying terrorism.

The online conversation about Hasan was also informed by a Washington Post link that displayed dozens of the slides he used during a 2007 presentation about Islam he delivered to senior Army doctors at Walter Reed Hospital. The interactive nature of the Web allowed users to see and comment on direct evidence rather than solely relying on the interpretations of others.

It was a week, too, when the new media and the old were closely matched. The top two subjects for bloggers were also widely covered in the mainstream press. Fort Hood was the No. 1 story (at 20% of the week’s newshole) and health care was the third biggest (at 11%), according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, which monitors 55 key mainstream media outlets from print, cable, network, radio and major online news sites.

The No. 3 story in the blogosphere last week was the latest chapter in a seven-year-old crime saga. A CNN report about the November 10 execution of John Allen Muhammad, the so-called "D.C. Sniper" involved in shootings that killed 10 people in 2002, received 11% of the links.

Another CNN report about Danish researchers who discovered that a golf ball will take between 100 and 1,000 years to decompose naturally was fourth, at 10% of the links. And a report on about the surprise departure of prime-time host Lou Dobbs was fifth, at 8% of blog links. Reaction to Dobbs’ departure varied. Some bloggers were glad the controversial host was leaving; others hoped he would find a way to advocate for the issues he had focused on such as immigration.

As is often the case, technology dominated the conversation on Twitter. All five of the most linked-to news stories last week were Web-related. The top subject was Twitter itself, with 14% of the links directed at two stories from One was a report about the difficulties Twitter was having rolling out its new "retweet" feature while the other was about a new partnership between Twitter and the business-networking tool LinkedIn.

The second-largest subject, also at 14%, was an announcement by Microsoft that as many as one million users of their XBOX Live gaming service would be banned for modifying their game consoles or using illegally downloaded games. Stories about Chrome, Google’s new Web-browsing software, were third at 9%, while a quote from a Microsoft executive claiming that its new Windows 7 operating system was inspired by a  competitor, Macintosh, finished fourth at 8%. Also at 8% was a Wired article about people who have hacked into Apple’s iPhones in order to utilize unauthorized software.

Health Care

To opponents of health care reform, who seemed to outnumber supporters in the blogosphere last week, the November 7 vote to pass a bill in the House was a troubling event.

"What have Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats just done to America and the Constitution?" wondered Scared Monkeys. "How irresponsible could a Congress be? With 10.2% unemployment, people loses their jobs, their homes and struggling mightily … Imperial Congress passes a bill that would cost $1.2 trillion to an already out of control deficit…Wake up, the point of the bill was to control you."*

"As you know, the House of Misrepresentatives passed a healthcare reform bill last weekend," added Emawkc at 3 o’clock AM. "Some people will consider this bill the ‘change’ promised by the Obama Syndicate lo those many months ago. Those people will be wrong. Our government has been wasting money on Federally financed ‘entitlements’ for decades. Nothing new here, just more of the same."

Some supporters applauded the vote, although a number of liberals were upset at Democrats who voted for the bill despite an amendment that would restrict the availability of abortions covered by insurance.

"It’s a big step toward health care reform in the US," noted Emily at Feminist Looking Glass. "But amid the cautious celebratory mood progressives are undoubtedly in, there’s a shadow that should be looming over all of us. The House has passed a bill that has an absolute and utter lack of protection of abortion rights."

"This a serious hit to reproductive rights," worried The Word of Bowers. "What makes me really angry is that a good percentage of the Democrats who voted for the bill did so despite carrying the ‘pro-choice’ banner…But she [Pelosi], along with many Democrats, were so desperate to pass a health care bill that it didn’t matter if it clashed with one of the major ideals for many in the party."

While in the minority, a few bloggers attempted to evaluate the specifics contained in the bill.

Zane Safrit, a radio host and small business owner, decided the measure featured more positives than negatives.

The biggest benefit, Safrit decided, was the elimination of so-called job-lock. "Health insurance not tied to your employer frees each of us to pursue the opportunities where we can contribute the most. And it frees smaller companies to compete for the talent they need to grow their business," he wrote. "And for no increase or even a savings for businesses now able to offer health insurance, I see mandated health insurance as a cost-saver. That’s a pretty good days work for Congress."

Fort Hood

This week, most of the conversation about the Fort Hood rampage related to the suspect and his religion. Many bloggers linked to a Washington Post slideshow from a 2007 presentation Hasan made about threats the military could face from Muslims conflicted about fighting wars in Islamic countries. And that led many commentators to conclude that the military was negligent in missing clear warning signs.

Describing the slideshow, editor-in-chief Marty Peretz posted on the New Republic blog, "Hasan’s ostensible topic was ‘The Koranic World View As It Relates to Muslims in the U.S. Military.’ It might as well have been titled, as the scholar Barry Rubin suggested, ‘Why I Intend to Murder 13 American Soldiers at Foot Hood.’ But, since nobody in the higher-up military actually noticed that a very shaky psychiatrist, indeed, gave an official medical rounds talk-maybe even grand rounds-on Islam, Hasan did, in fact, go on to kill 13 men and women and wound another 28."

"Dr. Hasan’s professors and medical supervisors clearly dropped the ball," added Barry Brownstein at Giving Up Control. "They refused to fulfill their professional obligations…Did they drop the ball because of political correctness or were they simply cowardly, inept, and/or lazy?  Of course, we don’t know; but because they didn’t carry out their professional obligations and hold Dr. Hasan to the same standards they were presumably holding others too, Dr. Hassan was taught very bad lessons."

Others focused on what they perceived was a Muslim threat to the country.

"They all knew the guy was a stark raving mad Islamic fundamentalist loony, yet they did nothing, because they’re afraid to do anything about ANY Muslims at all, thanks to the terror of Political Correctness (oh, yes, political correctness is a form of terrorism!), which is used to the Islamic supremacists’ and jihadists’ advantage over the Free World and its People," argued The Canadian Sentinel.

"Islam is an existential threat, immediately to random individuals…and to the nation in the long term if we don’t wise up and defend ourselves adequately and effectively by eliminating it," proclaimed dajjal at Freedom Ain’t Free & Take Our Country Back. "We can no more tolerate Islam in our midst than rattlesnakes and copper heads in our homes."

A few commentators disagreed with the notion that Islam was the problem, but instead insisted that Hasan’s interpretations of the religion were incorrect.

"What is absolutely preposterous and horrific about Major Hasan’s views (if he was, in fact, motivated by his skewed interpretation of Islam) is his interpretation of the Qur’an’s prohibition against ‘murdering fellow Muslims’ as a license to go and kill fellow soldiers," wrote Hadia Mubarak at Seasonsnidur. "How, in the name of humanity, can someone interpret a verse against killing believers as a license to kill someone else? There is absolutely no religious justification in Islam for the murder committed by Major Hasan or for acts of violence that unjustly take away life."


The most viewed news video last week was about sports, or more accurately, about bad sportsmanship. And it generated a major outcry.

During a collegiate playoff game on November 5 in the Mountain West Conference, a University of New Mexico soccer player named Elizabeth Lambert was caught on video committing several hard fouls. She threw elbows, collided with players, and even pulled the ponytail of one opponent, forcing her to the ground.

The video of the incidents has become a phenomenon ever since it was broadcast on television outlets such as ESPN and posted on numerous Web sites. On YouTube alone, various versions of the footage have been viewed over 2 million times.

Lambert was suspended for her rough play the following day and released a statement apologizing: "My actions were uncalled for…I let my emotions get the best of me in a heated situation."

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of November 7-13, 2009

1. Associated Press footage from November 5 of University of New Mexico soccer player Elizabeth Lambert committing rough fouls against an opponent

2. A Brazilian news report about Geisy Arruda, a Brazilian student, who was harassed and expelled from a university for wearing a mini-dress to class

3. A news report from WCCO, a local Minneapolis television station, about a man who was tasered by police despite the appearance that he was not resisting the policemen’s orders

4. Confusion before a Dudu Nobre concert in Brazil

5. A CBS news report of a 26-year-old drunk woman who fell on subway tracks in Boston but survived as a train stopped before hitting her


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.