April 8, 2010

Bloggers Focus on Two Favorite Subjects: Health Care and Global Warming

PEJ New Media Index March 29-April 2, 2010

The blogosphere and social media debated two familiar and controversial subjects last week: health care and global warming. 

The mainstream press and even Twitter shifted some attention to subjects other than health care reform after weeks of sustained focus. But the political fallout of the bill continued to lead the discussion in the blogosphere, a medium made up heavily of commentary and debate.

From March 29-April 2, 19% of the week’s links in the blogosphere concerned health care, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. This is the third straight week that it has been the top subject, although the level of attention was less than a third of what it had been a week earlier.

The debate picked up where it had left off the previous week. Bloggers continued to discuss allegations of vandalism and threats aimed at members of Congress who supported reform. Liberals expressed outrage at the reports and focused on a former militiaman in Alabama who wrote a blog post calling for people to throw bricks through the windows of Democratic offices. Some conservatives disputed the claims of misconduct by Tea Party activists, especially a week-old report that members of the  Congressional Black Caucus were spit on and had racial epithets yelled at them.

Many opposed to the health care reform bill also spotlighted a March 30 USA Today/Gallop poll, which showed Obama’s disapproval rating hitting 50% for the first time and two-thirds of Americans feeling the reform bill was too expensive. Opponents saw the poll as vindication for their position that the reform was unpopular and that Obama was suffering politically.

In the mainstream press last week, health care made up 9% of the week’s newshole, and was surpassed by another subject for the first time in more than a month, the economy at 10%. In the blogosphere, the economy was not among the top subjects of the week.

Global warming emerged as the second-largest story in the blogosphere (at 16%). It, too, has proven a favorite over the past year. Last week marked the 10th time that the subject has been among the top five stories on blogs since PEJ began monitoring the blogosphere in January 2009.

The trigger last week was an interview with Professor James Lovelock, a 90-year-old British scientist best known for his theory that the earth is a single organism. In an interview with the BBC, Lovelock suggested it was too late to save the planet because mankind had irrevocably “pulled the trigger” on global warming through the development of civilizations. Hopefully, Lovelock said, the planet will regulate itself, but in the meantime people should “enjoy life while you can.”

Skeptics of climate change science dominated the discussion on blogs, much as they have in recent months. In particular, they seized on criticisms Lovelock levied at those whom he said stand to benefit from trying to solve or ease climate change.

The third-largest subject on blogs, with 10% of the links, was the bombings in Russia that killed at least 40 people and injured another 100. A BBC report about the Cassini spacecraft orbiting a moon near Saturn which produced a temperature map that resembled the 1980s video game icon Pac-Man was fourth at 9%. And an op-ed by Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson about the Michigan-based Hutaree militia and the rising threat from extremist right-wing groups was fifth at 8%.

On the social networking site Twitter, the agenda was dramatically different than that of the blogs and the mainstream press.  

The top subject, with 22% of the week’s links according to the tracking site Tweetmeme, involved new scientific achievements with the Large Hadron Collider, the world’s largest energy particle accelerator located on the border of France and Switzerland. Scientists were able to make two proton beams collide at high energy which may yield discoveries of new properties of nature. Supporters claimed this marked a “new territory” in physics research, as a number of Twitter users celebrated the technical triumph. 

The Catholic abuse scandal involving accusations of misconduct by priests was second at 9%. That was followed by news about Apple’s new iPad (7%), a story that television star Jesse James was checking into a rehab facility to save his marriage with actress Sandra Bullock (5%), and a report about the ongoing marketing competition between online giants Twitter and Facebook (5%). 

The Health Care Argument Continues

The debate that began a week before about the nature of the protests to the health care reform bill continued last week.

Supporters of health care focused on two Washington Post stories to suggest that the anti-reform movement had gotten out of hand and some of the responsibility fell to leaders of the Republican Party.

One was a profile of Mike Vanderboegh, a former militiaman from Alabama, who urged people to oppose health care reform by throwing bricks through the windows of Democratic offices. The other was a week-old story that described accusations of Tea Party protestors spitting on and yelling at members of the Congressional Black Caucus the day of the House vote.

“The politics of hatred are getting out of hand,” declared John Morgan at The Pennsylvania Progressive. “The right wing noise machine is overheated with calls for violence and now that idiots are heeding those calls the perpetrators are scurrying back into their holes to avoid accountability…As bricks get tossed through windows, Members of Congress and their families threatened and liberals who dare attend Tea Party events roughed up we must hold accountable everyone responsible for such hate speech.”

“If Republicans do not stand up and condemn the violence rather than dismissing them as ‘Isolated incidents,’ and continue to be so loose with their lips, someone will end up seriously getting hurt or worse,” warned Young Progressive.*

Some conservatives, however, pointed to videos of Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) walking by protestors and argued that it showed something quite different from what had been reported.

“In fact, nobody spat on Cleaver,” concluded Kurt Nimmo. “He wandered too close to a screaming protester and was hit by flying saliva. The ‘N’ word cannot be heard in either of the videos…although it is difficult to tell what beyond ‘kill the bill’ is being yelled at the Congress critters as they flaunted their power over the plebs.”

“It’s the Democrat’s Modus Operandi; villainize your opposition, demean them, ridicule them and you gain public outrage for your victimhood,” wrote An Angelino’s View of the World. “It’s all a ploy to distract you from their horrible legislation and the fact that this health care bill is a fiscal abomination.”

Following the March 30 release of a USA Today/Gallup poll showing that a majority of Americans felt the bill was too costly and expanded the government’s role by too much, conservative bloggers claimed a political victory.

“Obama promised his useful idiots better care, lower costs, sunshine, lollipops and free health care for all. The latest poll tells a far different story,” posted Tarpon’s Swamp. “The Democrats have just experienced a dead cat bounce.”

“Not only is there no momentum, but the same tactics behind creating faux-Obamamentum are the same tactics that are increasing the public’s distaste for the majority party,” surmised Left Coast Rebel. “There are countless other unpopular things the President intends to pass and it’s not going to get done by looking for public support. The only way he is going to get it done is by duping his own party members.”

Global Warming

Professor James Lovelock’s interview with the BBC provoked substantial discussion in the blogosphere and social media. Lovelock argued that global warming is real. But he also asserted that it was too late for mankind to stop global warming and it is impossible to predict what the future holds. That argument gave climate change skeptics more ammunition to attack one of their favorite targets: the environmental movement.

“Scientists, he [Lovelock] says, have moved from investigating nature as a vocation, to being caught in a career path where it makes sense to ‘fudge the data.’ Politicians and Coorporate America push climate change…because it makes GOOD BUSINESS SENSE,” wrote TNT Success. “Why can’t we enjoy life without being constantly scapegoated by our government? They use ‘FEAR TACTICS’ to scare Americans into paying more taxes, donate to made up global warming scams, and pay higher prices for products across the shelf.” 

“That does mean…the ‘green’ movement is complete a waste of everybody’s time,” added Nicholas Deleon at Crunch Gear. “We have no idea how this planet works, other than the fact that we’re now realizing there’s very little we can to do affect it in any meaningful manner…It’s hopeless, which is awesome.”

There were some people, however, that felt that Lovelock’s conclusion was reckless.

“Lovelock says it is time to eat, drink and be merry because there is nothing we can do to save the planet,” posted Tenney Naumer at Climate Change: The Next Generation. “But I have a 24-year-old daughter. Maybe there is much that cannot be saved. But we do not need to go down the path of extinguishing all life on this planet, including the human species…To turn the entire planet into a wasteland where nothing lives is, well, a sin, in my opinion.”

YouTube

The most-viewed news videos on YouTube last week all involved prominent politicians, but not for particularly desirable reasons.

Three of the top five videos were of the same incident involving former presidents George W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The two men have been leading the U.S. relief effort in Haiti, and during a recent joint visit there a video showed them shaking hands with a crowd of locals. At one point in the video, it appears that Bush wiped his hand on Clinton’s shirt, leading many blogs and tweets to ridicule Bush for his fear of germs.

 

Combined, the three versions of this video were viewed more than 3 million times last week. 

The second most-viewed clip was a 14-second excerpt of the introduction by Vice President Joe Biden of Obama at the signing of the health care reform bill on March 23. Biden can be heard whispering to Obama that the passage of the bill was a “big f—ing deal.” 


Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of March 27 – April 2, 2010

1. BBC footage of George W. Bush and Bill Clinton in Haiti where Bush appears to be wiping his hand on Clinton’s shirt

2. Joe Biden uses a swear word while whispering to Obama at the March 23 health care bill signing

3. A short clip of a confused unidentified man walking out behind Obama during his speech at the health care bill signing

4. A longer clip from the BBC of the Bush/Clinton incident in Haiti

5. The shortened version of the Bush/Clinton incident

 

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, uses 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 (25 stories 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.