December 7, 2009

Hispanics in the News

Biggest Storylines

If foreign affairs drove coverage of Muslims and Asians, it was one domestic storyline, in particular, that stood out in Hispanic-related coverage: the history-making nomination and confirmation of the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice, Sonia Sotomayor. During the period under study, it was also one of the biggest stories of any kind in the national news media. Across PEJ’s entire News Coverage Index during these six months, from the early days of the Obama Administration through just after Sotomayor’s August 8 swearing-in, the nomination was the seventh-biggest story, filling up 2.6% of the total newshole studied.

When it came to Hispanic-related coverage, Sotomayor was number one. Nearly four-in-ten (39%) stories containing significant Hispanic mentions were about her nomination and eventual confirmation—this despite the fact that the story did not emerge until President Obama announced her nomination on May 26, more than halfway through our period of study. Her nomination quickly became the top news story in the nation, accounting for 24% of the newshole for the week of the announcement, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

The Sotomayor nomination, despite considerable coverage of the partisan debate over her legal philosophy and qualifications, was portrayed mainly as a story about achievement, a Horatio Alger tale that culminated in the confirmation of a Latina to the highest legal position in the country.

The next most prominent Hispanic-related storyline, at 15% of the newshole, was the drug war in Mexico, which was at the height of its intensity in February.  Much of the attention to this story was tied to the war along the U.S.-Mexico border.  

The swine flu/H1N1 storyline rounded out the top three news events that had explicit and substantial reference to Hispanics. Coverage with those references accounted for 13% of this newshole studied.

In this case, several different threads of the story involved Hispanics. One was the source of the flu; another was the late April shutdown of Mexico City, the nation’s capital city. A third was travel to and from Mexico.