March 10, 2011

This Time, Bloggers Battle over the GOP Budget

PEJ New Media Index February 28 – March 4, 2011

For the second time in three weeks, the blogosphere jumped into the national debate over the federal budget, the deficit and jobs. However, while the previous conversation focused mostly on President Obama’s budget proposals, last week the attention was mostly on Republican plans to cut the budget.

For the week of February 28-March 4, fully 37% of the news links on blogs were about the budget, easily making it the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In recent weeks, there has been a clear delineation in the old and new media news agendas. The blogosphere has not matched the mainstream media’s interest in the Mideast turmoil, which has been the dominant story there. Instead, bloggers have been more focused on hot-button domestic issues such as the budget, the Patriot Act, and the labor standoff in Wisconsin.

Last week, the debate over the budget featured a number of liberal voices objecting to the GOP plans for cuts, which contrasted with two weeks prior when conservative commentators led the conversation criticizing Obama’s $3.73 trillion budget proposal.

In the current debate, many critics of the GOP focused on an independent analysis from Moody economist Mark Zandi who predicted the Republican plan to cut $61 billion from the budget over the next seven months would result in a loss of 700,000 jobs throughout the country. If the GOP’s aim was to create jobs, these critics suggested, their budget-cutting goals would have an unintended negative effect.

A few conservatives disagreed with Zandi’s analysis, citing his involvement in the 2009 stimulus package as evidence of a tilted perspective.  

With budgetary disagreements raising the prospect of a possible government shutdown, a Washington Post column by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich was also part of the budget conversation last week. Gingrich, who played a central role in the 1995 government shutdown, implored Republicans to stick to their principles and not be afraid of a shutdown since, according to his assessment, the 1995 maneuver was a success. Bloggers, for the most part, disagreed with Gingrich’s recounting of events.

Two very different stories tied for the No. 2 subject on blogs last week, each with 10% of the links.

One was the passing of Frank W. Buckles, the last remaining American World War I veteran, at the age of 110. Although the story generated modest attention in the mainstream media, bloggers expressed admiration for Buckles’ life story and his death became the impetus for many to reflect on the extinction of eyewitnesses to momentous historical events.

The other story tied for second was news that Fox News suspended the contracts of their political contributors Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum because both men were considering runs for the presidency in 2012. A number of bloggers asked why the same action had not been taken in regard to two other Fox contributors, Sarah Palin and Mike Huckabee.

A story about a call by House Democrats for Republican leaders to investigate a Washington law firm and three technology contractors was next, at 7%. The companies in question were shown in hacked emails to be contemplating a "disinformation campaign" against opponents of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a powerful trade association that has supported many Republican candidates in recent elections.

Also at 7% was the 8-1 Supreme Court ruling protecting the First Amendment right of the controversial Westboro Baptist Church to conduct anti-gay protests at military funerals. (The same Church was also a subject of the second most-watched news video on YouTube last week.)

Twitter

The lead news subjects on Twitter last week were a mix of technology, pop culture, and the Libyan revolts.

Facebook was the No. 1 subject, with 19% of the week’s links. Most of the attention was focused on a change in Facebook’s commands. The company merged two of its buttons-the "Like" button and the "Share" button into one. Now when users "Like" a post, that post automatically appears on their profile page. And "Share" no longer exists.

Apple was the second-largest subject with 17%. Tweeters focused on stories involving the company’s popular iPhone and iPad products, including a report about the burgeoning trade-in activity for the original iPad, thus suggesting that the demand for the iPad 2 could surpass all expectations.

Stories about the Oscar awards were No. 3, at 10%. They included a Mashable analysis of the activity on social media during the event and a report on how the movie The Social Network, which told the story of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, fared at the awards.

That was followed, also at 10%, by stories about Libya including an interview where Muammar Gaddafi told the BBC that he is loved by all his people and denied there have been any protests in Tripoli. Twitterers were surprised by Gaddafi’s defiance which some said seemed to border on delusional.

And stories about a March 22 event where Samsung is likely to announce the new version of its Galaxy Tab tablet were fifth, at 6%.

The Budget and Jobs

For liberals looking to criticize the GOP’s efforts to cut $61 billion from the federal budget over the next seven months and terminate dozens of programs, the release of an analysis by Moody’s Analytics’ chief economist Mark Zandi gave them some ammunition.

According to Zandi, who advised John McCain’s 2008 presidential campaign and also helped create the 2009 stimulus package supported by Obama, the Republican plan would reduce economic growth by 0.5 percentage points this year, and by 0.2 percentage points in 2012, resulting in the loss of 700,000 jobs.

"Republicans rode into the House majority chanting ‘where are the jobs?’ but multiple independent analyses have now found that the vision they have for the federal budget would make unemployment substantially worse," assessed Timsomor at Debates the Matter.  

"Republicans want to lay off 700,000 workers," argued RES17 at Exposing the Man. "That is why you should never vote for Republicans. They fight a fire by dumping gasoline on it. When that fails their solution is to dump even more gasoline."

Some thought that maybe the Republicans had an ulterior political motive behind the cutting.

"Seven hundred thousand jobs can easily be the difference between Obama winning a close election thanks to a steadily recovering economy…and Obama losing because the economy seems to have effectively stalled with unemployment at 8.4 percent," predicted Jon Walker at Firedoglake. "It is no wonder that Republicans always seem to undergo a sudden anti-deficit revival that necessitates immediate cuts whenever a Democrat is in the White House."

"Of course, if their plan is to make matters worse and make Obama look terrible for the next two years so that maybe a Republican will win in 2012, then they probably consider their cuts and any resulting job losses a ‘success,’" speculated Under the Mountain Bunker & Coffee Shop.

While few conservatives discussed the report, those that did disputed the findings.

"I don’t believe the Moody’s number…Zandi was largely responsible for crafting the 2009 ‘stimulus’ that didn’t stimulate. He therefore has shown the lack of efficacy in his policy pronouncements," pronounced Karl Denninger at The Market Ticker.

"How can the Zandi [study] claim that the spending cuts in the House budget will harm the economy if they came out before the GAO study identifying wasteful government spending?" asked An Ol’ Broad’s Ramblings. "What if all, half, or just some of the spending cuts in the House budget are simply cuts to government waste? Surely these facts would change the outcome… right?"

Some in the blogosphere discussed the government shutdown that could transpire if Congress does not agree to a budget deal. In particular, many took notice of a Washington Post column by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who played a central role in the government shutdown that occurred in 1995.

Gingrich, who is considering a Republican bid for the presidency, claimed that despite conventional wisdom to the contrary, the 1995 shutdown was a principled stand in favor of spending cuts, and was both a political and policy success. Republicans today, he added, should not be afraid to face another government shutdown to make a similar point.

Most bloggers weren’t buying Gingrich’s telling of history.

"It absolutely isn’t true that, as Gingrich now wants us to believe, spending cuts were the reason congressional Republicans shut the government in 1995 and 1996," contradicted Stan Collendar at Capital Gains and Games. "The big issue then was tax cuts rather than spending cuts…Gingrich is also wrong about the shutdown being good for Republicans. The reaction was so bad that it was, in fact, the beginning of the end for Newt as speaker."

"One salient fact blows away Mr. Gingrich and his nonsensical article. The re-election of Bill Clinton," surmised Norman Rogers at An American Lion. "Thanks again, Newt. You could have held the Speaker‘s gavel for twenty years. Unfortunately, your own hubris and insecurity doomed those of us who wanted you to change Washington to four more years of horror."

A few bloggers, however, were supportive of Gingrich’s advice.

"Many have talked the talk but Gingrich has walked the walk," declared Tucker Scofield at The DC Post. "House Republicans would do well to listen to the voice of experience and stick to their guns. They weren’t elected in November’s landslide by being ‘Progressive Lite'; they won because they differentiated themselves as principled men and women of action who recognized that the time to act is now."*

The Last WWI Vet

Bloggers who noted the passing of Frank W. Buckles, the last remaining American veteran from World War I, praised the man’s life and were attracted to his life story.

"…today’s young men could learn much from his long and storied life," suggested My Daily Kona.

But for most, the news of Buckles’ death was a reflective moment to discuss the fading of historical events into distant memory.

"What’s significant here is what Mr. Buckles’ death represents. The passing into history of a significant chapter of our past," wrote P_John at Umbral Tabard. "Close to 5 million Americans served in World War I. They’re gone now. We’ve lost something. I wonder if we’ll notice."

"There is something terribly final about the death of the last human being to personally experience a war," suggested Webner’s House. "With the severing of the last human links to the fighting, World War I moves from the realm of personal experience to the exclusive province of historians…Eventually a war in which millions of people participated and millions died…will become as abstract, dusty, and inexplicable as the Hundred Years’ War, the War of Jenkins’ Ear, or the War of Austrian Succession."

YouTube

The February 21 earthquake that hit Christchurch, New Zealand, and killed at least 65 people was a popular subject on YouTube last week. Three of the most viewed news videos were of the devastation caused by the quake.

The top video, viewed more than 2.5 million times, was raw footage posted by TV New Zealand and showed people reacting in the moments after the event, along with the destruction to buildings and infrastructure.

The fourth video was aerial footage, also of the aftermath, posted by Russia Today. The overhead view gives yet a different perspective of the scope of the damage.

Finally, the No. 5 video was taken by an individual on the ground almost immediately after quake occurred. The person who posted the video can be heard talking about the events he just viewed. At one point he intones, "It’s terrifying."

Taken together, these three different videos from three different perspectives of the New Zealand disaster give a strong impression of the scale of the damage to that country.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube
For the Week of February 26-March 4, 2011

1. TV New Zealand footage of the aftermath of the February 21 earthquake in Christchurch

2. An interview on The David Pakman Show, a syndicated talk program, about a conflict between the Westboro Baptist Church a group of online activists known as Anonymous

3. Audio of a prank phone call to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker by The Buffalo Beast’s Ian Murphy posing as conservative activist David Koch

4. Aerial footage from Russia Today of the aftermath of the New Zealand quake

5. First-person video taken moments after the New Zealand earthquake hit



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’s New Media Index is 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. 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 monitors the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Icerocket, PEJ captures 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 list used on Icerocket offers the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news videos 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.