December 3, 2009

A Court Martial Fuels Anger in the Blogosphere

PEJ New Media Index November 23-27, 2009

A story that has generated little attention in the mainstream media was the most popular subject among bloggers last week.

From November 23-27, 40% of the links in blogs were to a November 24 Fox News report about the pending court martial of three Navy SEALs who captured a wanted terrorist in Iraq, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Many commentators, who tilted conservative, expressed outrage that the men are being prosecuted for an alleged assault against Ahmed Hashim Abed, the reputed mastermind behind the 2004 killing of four Blackwater contractors. Some of them blamed President Obama for allowing the case to proceed.

Until this week, Iraq had been largely absent from the news-among both new and traditional outlets. So far in 2009, it has not appeared at all among the top five weekly subjects in the blogosphere and in the mainstream press accounted for less than 2% of the coverage, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. Even last week, virtually all the online commentary on the court martial case linked to one report on, with few other mainstream media outlets doing independent reporting on the story.

The Iraq story accounted for more than three times the links as the second-largest story for bloggers last week: the Senate’s November 21 vote to begin floor debate on the health care reform bill-a procedural victory for those pushing for comprehensive reform. Bloggers saw the vote as significant, and many used the opportunity to voice support or opposition to the reform effort.

The No. 3 story for bloggers (at 9%) was a BBC report about an iPhone virus, mainly affecting users engaged in online banking with the Dutch bank ING. The subject of global warming was fourth (at 8%), though the subject debated was not so much warming itself but the hacking of private emails from a British climate change research. And fifth (at 5%) was the revelation that a Belgium man believed to have been in a coma for 23 years was actually conscious the entire time.

Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin-in the news for her book "Going Rogue"-was the top attraction on the video sharing site YouTube last week. She was the subject of two of the top five videos, although not necessarily in a positive way. The top video, viewed more than a million times, came from the liberal organization, New Left Media. The eight-minute video showed Palin fans sounding ill-informed about her policies. The third most popular news video was of a Palin signing event in Indiana when she left with angry fans still waiting in line.

On Twitter, a different celebrity was the focus of the most linked-to news story. A article on Good Morning America’s decision to cancel a live concert by singer and American Idol runner-up Adam Lambert received 13% of the news links. Most of the tweets expressed surprise and disappointment with ABC’s decision which followed Lambert’s sexually suggestive performance on the American Music Awards.

The next most popular stories on Twitter were technology related, with most involving unique ways companies use social media to advertise.

For example, second, at 12%, was a story about advertisers paying Twitterers to mention products in their tweets. Next (at 10%) was a report about an Ikea marketing campaign in Sweden that used the photo-tagging feature on Facebook.

A bizarre article and video about a Japanese man who held a ceremony to marry a fictitious video game character was fourth at 7%. And a report about Apple iPhone ads attacking their competitor, Verizon’s Droid, was fifth also at 7%.

SEALs Facing Charges

On November 24, Fox News reported that three Navy SEALs who had captured Ahmed Hashim Abed in September now faced assault charges. Many bloggers, especially conservatives, were infuriated that the SEALs might be punished for the capture. A few of the details reported by Fox have been disputed. Nevertheless, many bloggers adamantly criticized the charges based on the Fox report.  

"Who are the idiots in charge of this and who are the cowards that let it even move forward???" asked redfinch at Staying Home Baking Cookies. "This is a WAR and the poor ‘victim’ was not a victim at all. HE KILLED AMERICAN’S!! A fat lip???? For all we know he hit himself in the lip. I just cannot believe this case is moving forward."*

"Awwww. The poor little Islamic jihadi who beheads non-Mohammedans and kills women and children got his feelings hurt because someone punched him!" echoed 84rules. "Whoever is running this investigation and pushing these charges needs to be thoroughly investigated and when wrong-doing is discovered (i.e. prosecutorial misconduct) they should be hand-cuffed and frog-marched off to prison!"

A number also focused their anger on Obama and liberals.

"Welcome to Obamanation," wrote Gary at LRRP’s World. "Where the heroes get screwed and the scum of the earth get their rights in an American court."

"Gee, maybe instead of focusing on capturing terrorists and defeating the enemy in Afghanistan, we should follow the U.S. lead and begin arresting and detaining soldiers for doing their jobs," Adrian MacNair at Unambiguously Ambidextrous wrote sarcastically. "That’s certainly what the Liberals seem to want us to do."

"Now we will see who President Obama & his butt wiping Attorney General, Eric ‘Toilet Paper’ Holder, think has more rights-the terrorist’s or an American soldier," declared King’s Right Site.

While a clear minority, a few commentators wondered if there was more to the story than had been reported.

"I would hazard a guess that Fox News has glossed over some important facts about the allegations here (shocker, I know)," posted an anonymous commenter at caaflog, a blog devoted to military justice. "The charge sheets would be an interesting read. They would probably show that some other good order and discipline issues exist aside from the alleged assault (orders violations, false official statements, etc.) that aggravate this case."

Health Care Vote

The Senate’s vote to bring the health care reform bill to the floor drew generally predictable reactions from those on both sides of the polarizing issue.

"Since Harry S. Truman was President of the United States the Democrats have been trying to get health care for all Americans," declared Jim Howard. "At last it looks like it is going to happen. The Republicans, like always, have been fighting it tooth and nail…I think the health care plan will work…There will be fewer people in emergency rooms…More people taking care of minor problems before they turn into major medical problems."

"Liberals are now one step closer to seizing more of our wealth in order to pay for their previous blunders under the hoax of a ‘crisis,’" warned Arkady at Right Condition.  "Everyone who supports health care reform as offered by Pelosi and Reid are either incredibly stupid and naive or have Marxist blood coursing through their veins."

A November 22 Washington Post piece by Dana Milbank detailed the agreement Democrats made with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu to provide $300 million in extra Medicare subsidies to her state to secure her vote. The deal drew particular attention from those opposed to the bill, which critics nicknamed the "Louisiana Purchase."

"Pandora’s Box has been opened with Reid’s pay-off of Landrieu," exclaimed Douglas V. Gibbs at Political Pistachio. "Leftists have no scruples. They can be bought. Their own power is more important than what is best for the country, or whatever values and beliefs they may hold. There is no louder evidence than the Louisiana Purchase to prove those statements."

"Landrieu can excuse herself all she wants, and supporters can equivocate until the end of time," criticized Wellsy’s World. "I have no faith now that Landrieu will act on her supposed concerns with the bill and will approve whatever comes through to the final vote simply so she can score some money and political capital at home. With what seems to be an obvious payoff, she’s shown what kind of politician she is-a typical one."


Two of the most popular news videos on YouTube last week involved supporters of Sarah Palin, but probably not for the reasons they would have liked.  The most popular came from an organization called New Left Media, a liberal group which claims to be made up of two individuals and a camera.

The interviewer asks people in line for a November 20 book signing in Columbus, Ohio, why they like Palin and which of her policy positions they support.

The purpose of the video is clearly to portray fans of Palin as uninformed. Whether this is an accurate or fair depiction is left for the viewer to decide. What the video surely demonstrates is that a few people with limited resources can disseminate their message to millions of people in the age of the Internet.

The third video was of disappointed fans waiting outside of a Palin signing in Noblesville, Indiana. According to reports, Palin signed books there for several hours before leaving with between 100 and 300 families still in line. The video includes fans booing and chanting as the Palin leaves the event.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of November 21-27, 2009

1. A collection of interviews with supporters of Sarah Palin produced by New Left Media

2. Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times reviews the movie ‘The Twilight Saga: New Moon’

3. Angry fans outside a Palin book signing in Indiana react when she leaves the event without having signed for everyone waiting in line

4. Senator James Inhofe makes a joke during a Congressional committee hearing about global warming when he tells Senator Barbara Boxer, "We won, you lost, get a life."

5. A news report about the controversial handball by France’s soccer star Thierry Henry against Ireland during an elimination match


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.