August 4, 2011

Bloggers Weigh in on the Tea Party

PEJ New Media Index July 25-29, 2011

The top story on blogs last week was the debt ceiling drama unfolding in Washington. Bloggers aimed their commentary on one of the key players in that drama-the Tea Party.

For the week of July 25-29, almost one quarter (23%) of news links on blogs were about the debt ceiling, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. And while several stories were linked to, the one that triggered a heated debate involved Republican Senator John McCain’s unflattering reference to the Tea Party as hobbits- characters in J.R.R. Tolkein’s  Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Bloggers seized on McCain’s remarks to express their opinions on the Tea Party, and the response was largely mixed. Some rebuked the Tea Party while others praised it.

If the Tea Party were behaving more like hobbits, I might not actually be developing an ulcer as the clock ticks toward Debt Doomsday,” wrote Alexandra Petri, a blogger for the Washington Post. “Individual hobbits may well come swooping in on the backs of eagles in dramatic fashion after saving the day. But hobbits, as a species, are somewhat set in their ways and generally not prone to elaborate, ill-conceived heroics in times of crisis.”

“Well, Mr. McCain … Let me remind you of something. The Hobbits were the good guys. Well, that’s not quite correct. They weren’t the good guys. The Hobbits were some of the good guys …” wrote philmon. “So go ahead and belittle, or patronize, or whatever the hell it is you thought you were doing.”

The Tea Party, and particularly its leading figures, have been familiar topics for bloggers in recent months. From May 30-June 3, Sarah Palin was the No. 1 story on blogs for her appearance at a motorcycle rally in Washington, D.C. and her visit to New Hampshire. Palin was the No. 3 story on blogs from June 13-17 with the release of emails from her time as governor of Alaska. And from June 27-July 1, the No. 1 story on blogs was about another Tea Party favorite, Michele Bachmann, receiving government aid and confusing John Wayne, the actor, with John Wayne Gacy, the serial killer.

The mainstream press last week also gave a good deal of attention to the Tea Party, but primarily to its role in shifting the debt-ceiling debate to the right.

The No. 2 story last week, with 22% of links, was the passage into California law of the Dream Act, which gives undocumented college students state financial aid for their educations. Almost all of the blog responses came from bloggers who found it outrageous that the state government would be willing to fund educations for illegal immigrants in light of current economic woes.

“So now someone who has entered our nation illegally can get lower out of state tuitions than legal law-abiding citizens. The irrational liberal progressive policies never ceases to amaze me. Illegal immigrants are now encouraged and rewarded to break our laws,” wrote Cryptcl Idiot Savants.*

Next came three stories tied at 9%. One was about red-light cameras in Los Angeles and the news that authorities cannot force violators to pay the fines. Bloggers overwhelmingly thought this was terribly unfair to law-abiding citizens who have already paid fines.

Also at 9% was a BBC Radio discussion about building a Pompeii theme park. In the debate, archaeologist-turned-children’s author Caroline Lawrence defended the idea of building an historical theme park near the site where the Roman city of Pompeii was destroyed and buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted. On the opposing side was the director of the Herculaneum Conservation project, Professor Andrew Wallance-Hadrill, who wanted no such park. Most bloggers sided with Lawrence.

The other top story was an opinion piece by Lawrence M. Krauss, the director of the Origins Project, a science program at Arizona State University. Krauss decried Texas Governor Rick Perry’s day of prayer and fasting, which according to the Governor, was designed to “seek God’s guidance and wisdom in addressing the challenges that face our communities, states and nation.” Krauss called the day of prayer “misguided” and warned readers to “beware those who seek political power with the claim that God is on their side.” Responses were mixed between those who were supportive of the Perry event and those who agreed with Krauss.

John McCain and the Tea Party

During a July 27 speech on the Senate floor, Arizona Republican John McCain read from a Wall Street Journal editorial warning that if the GOP-controlled House fails to raise the debt ceiling, the political momentum would shift to the Democrats and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid who would craft a measure far less satisfactory to conservatives. In one memorable turn of phrase, the editorial referred to “tea-party Hobbits.”

McCain explained that by rejecting the House Speaker John Boehner’s plan to raise the debt ceiling, conservatives would unwittingly be helping to reelect President Obama.

Several bloggers used McCain’s words to make comparisons to other characters from Tolkien’s books, but most took the opportunity to explain how they felt about the Tea Party. Some were highly critical.

“How’s the tea party morons down in the US House of Representatives and the US Senate doing? According to Johnny McCrazy who at one time embraced the tea party like a lover….they’re nothing but a bunch of HOBBITS! Ouchie,” wrote KayInMaine at White Noise Insanity.*

At least one blogger blamed McCain for the Tea Party movement. “And it’s appropriate that the words are coming from John McCain, who did so much to create this idiotic movement by nominating Sarah Palin for VP-the last in a long line of Republicans who thought they could run the old bait-and-switch with their resentful and brutally misinformed ‘base’ forever,” wrote Adam Kotsko at An und für sich.

Others came to the defense of the Tea Party.

“John McCain has little respect for you tea party type. John, the feeling is mutual…” wrote The Cedar Rapids Tea Party.

And a number of bloggers simply used the occasion to attack McCain.

“McCain has continually confused political friends and political enemies throughout his career in Washington. His statements today belittling the Tea Party prove that he is still the same old John McCain. Sad,” wrote J. James Estrada on American Thinker.

“This is John McLame at his very lamest,” wrote Dan Cleary at The Right Scoop.

“Somebody should have warned him that one does not simply walk into metaphor,” wrote The Daily What.

Twitter

Twitterers last week focused on Britain. The top story for the week, with 25% of links, was about the BBC and Sky Sports striking a deal to air Formula 1 races. The deal means that from 2012 to 2018, only half of the races will be able to be watched for free on BBC. The pay-to-view Sky channel will be airing the other half.

British Tweeters were not happy about the news.

“The new formula 1 BBC/sky deal is possibly the worst broadcasting idea ever,” said James Cruden.

And some took it as an opportunity to make fun of Formula 1 itself.

“Disappointed about BBC/Sky Formula 1 deal? Paint a wall every time a race is on Sky and watch it dry for free,” tweeted Matt Leys.

Next, at 7% of the links, was a BBC article explaining that government departments had been ripped off by a “cartel” of big IT firms who overcharged for their services. Twitter users made light of the government being taken advantage of.

“Whitehall boss accused of being ripped off by big IT firms fires off an angry email on the cardboard box labelled ‘KOMPUTER’ on his desk,” wrote Tom Jamieson.

“IT firms ripping off Whitehall. Hardly a bloody surprise,” wrote Luke Bozier.

One more UK-based story made the top five story list. After two weeks as the No. 1 subject on Twitter (July 4-8 and July 11-15), the News of the World hacking scandal fell to fourth place, with 6% of links. A July 27 Independent article about how the Murdoch family was given secret defense briefings from British Defence Secretary Liam Fox resulted in more disbelief and outrage directed toward Rupert Murdoch’s media empire.

“Fox gave Murdochs secret defence briefings? Surely he has to resign for this?!” wrote Kevin Peel.

“Fox gave Murdoch’s confidential defence briefing on Afghanistan. Surely that could involve classified information. #hackgate #wherewillitend” wrote Tweet4Labour.

The story at No. 3, with 7% of links, was an MSNBC article about a 9-year-old girl with a wish to raise money to bring clean water to people in poor countries. After the girl, Rachel Beckwith, died July 23 in a car accident, thousands of people donated through the web page she had set up to raise money for her ninth birthday, raising over $790,000 for the charity she supported.  Twitter users retweeted the story, urging their followers to donate to Rachel’s cause.

And the fifth story, with 5% of links, was a traditional tech story-a  July 27 Wired article about the future of computing. Twitter users were excited at the prospect of thinner and disk-drive-free laptops.

YouTube

Two of the most viewed news videos on YouTube focused on the deadly July 22  attacks in Norway that resulted in the deaths of 77 people. (Last week’s New Media Index examined how the blogosphere reacted to those tragic events.)

The top video was a short clip showing the extent of the damage following the massive bombing of a government building in downtown Oslo.

The No. 3 video, posted by Russia Today, focused on the victims of the shooting rampage at a Labour Party summer youth camp on the island of Utoya, near Oslo, and the rescue effort to locate survivors and recover bodies from the water.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube

For the Week of July 23 – 29, 2011

1. Footage showing the aftermath of the July 22 bomb blast in downtown Oslo, Norway
2. Parody ad from the conservative Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee for a fake drug “Spenditol,” urging viewers to contact their representatives
3. Video from Russia Today showing the rescue effort after the attack on a youth camp on the island of Utoya, near Oslo
4. Video of waterfalls flowing upward in extreme winds in Australia
5. Footage showing a Jet2 Boeing 737-800 misfiring during the plane’s initial take-off from Ibiza Airport

About the New Media Index

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.