stories that have become fixtures in the headlines—the deadlocked debt debate
and the intensifying News of the World phone hacking scandal—accounted for more
than half of last week’s newshole, relegating other significant events to
secondary status in the media.
the week of July 18-24, the U.S. economy was the No. 1 story at 35% of the
newshole, almost tied with the previous week’s level of interest (37%),
according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
marked the fifth week in a row that the economy topped the mainstream news
agenda, the coverage almost entirely driven by bipartisan disagreement over
raising the debt limit and how to trim the budget deficit. That storyline
accounted for more than three-quarters of the economic coverage last week.
last week, economic coverage was biggest in cable and radio news—the two
sectors that include the ideological talk shows—where it accounted for nearly
half of all coverage on both platforms.
coverage of the hacking scandal surrounding Rupert Murdoch’s media empire—which
last week included his testimony before the British Parliament—rose to 17% of
the newshole, up from 12% and 6% the two previous weeks.
high level of media interest in its own industry is somewhat unusual. Last
week’s coverage made the scandal the second-biggest media story since PEJ began
tracking coverage in January 2007. The No. 1 media-focused story (26%) occurred
the week of April 8-13, 2007, when radio talk host Don Imus lost his job for making
racist and sexist remarks on the air.
sustained and expanding nature of the story was unusual, too—last week was the
third consecutive week that the News of the World scandal ranked among the top
five stories. Only one other media-focused story—the release of troves of
secret government information through open-source whistleblower Wikileaks—lasted
as long in the spotlight (it was a top-five story for three straight weeks in
December, 2010). That story, however, decreased in media attention each week over
that period, while the News of the World scandal has thus far increased each
No. 3 story last week was a major heat wave that made its way from the Midwest
to the East Coast, accounting for 5% of the newshole. By the end of the week,
news outlets were reporting that as many as 34 people had died due to the
U.S. presidential campaign came in at No. 4, at 4%. In recent weeks, the public
and media attention to the deficit debates in Washington have easily
overshadowed the campaign as a major story. Indeed, since July 4, the campaign
has only accounted for 4% of the newshole.
No. 5 story, at 3% of the newshole, was the end of the final mission of the NASA
shuttle Atlantis. That marked the end of an era, and news organizations took
the opportunity to reflect on the decades of space exploration by the U.S.
week’s No. 6 story (at 2%) was the worst attack in Norway’s postwar history
when one man allegedly orchestrated a bombing and a shooting that left nearly
100 people dead. The July 22 attack occurred late in the week, which may
explain the relatively low level of coverage in the Index.
Escalates, Crisis Deepens
the debt default deadline looming ever closer, the mood in Washington has grown
tenser, something that the news media have started to reflect. After about a
month of covering the roller coaster negotiations, there were hints of
weariness and resignation last week among the nation’s news outlets.
NPR’s Morning Edition on July 18, analyst Cokie Roberts remarked that “This
week, though, really is a kabuki dance. Everybody’s going through motions that
they know are going to lead nowhere.”
President Obama’s separate July 20 meetings with Republican and Democratic
congressional leaders, reporters feared that the two sides were moving further
July 21, NBC Today Show’s Matt Lauer asked NBC News chief White House
correspondent Chuck Todd if there was any progress being made. “Well, it
depends on how you define progress, because in many ways we are in the same
place that, actually, we were two months ago, three months ago, four months
ago. Nobody has a plan that can get through the Republican-controlled House of
through the middle of the week, the coverage reflected some hope that President
Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner might be able to work together to
achieve a significant compromise through a combination of tax increases and
spending cuts, even though that deal might be unpopular with members of their
own party. There were even reports that a major deal was imminent, though this
was quickly quashed on July 21 by White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
hope seemed to evaporate on July 22, when Boehner fired off a letter
essentially ending those talks, right before the evening network newscasts went
on the air.
speaker and the president were “on the verge of an historic deal,” said ABC’s
John Karl, adding that after the two were unable to agree on concessions, the
prospect of any significant solution to the budget and debt crisis was
can guarantee you this,” said Karl. “It will not be the kind of grand bargain
that would also deal with the coming fiscal crisis the country faces.”
evening, excerpts from dueling press conferences by Obama and Boehner, in which
each criticized the other for inflexibility, appeared on all major cable and
CNN’s Jessica Yellin summarized the end result
of yet another series of negotiations: “And now, with less than 10 days to go
until potential default, no deal, and each side blaming the other again with
this clock ticking and each side not sure how the deal will get done.”
News of the
week’s coverage of Rupert Murdoch’s tabloid scandal began with another
head of Scotland Yard, Sir Paul Stephenson, resigned on July 17, becoming what
the New York Times on July 18 called “the latest casualty of the phone-hacking
scandal engulfing British public life.” It happened only hours after embattled
News of the World former editor Rebekah Brooks was arrested.
are questioning whether the media mogul can slow what many are calling the
meltdown of his media empire,” reported MSNBC that afternoon.
Tuesday July 19, cameras were trained on Murdoch and his son, James, who
answered questions before a British legislative panel on their knowledge—or
lack thereof—about phone hacking. The testimony was interrupted when a British
comedian threw a shaving cream pie in the elder Murdoch’s face, a moment that
was replayed over and over again on television and on the web.
nearly half of last week’s News of the World coverage studied by PEJ occurred
media reactions offered a less than favorable view of Rupert Murdoch’s
performance, despite whatever sympathy a pie in the face might have earned him.
A Washington Post piece featured this
observation: “Murdoch repeatedly pounded
his hand on a table as he gave testimony, but nevertheless appeared removed
from day-to-day details of the scandal and unprepared for detailed
Wolf Blitzer, later on Tuesday, described the hearing as “A remarkable new
chapter in the scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch’s media empire, along with
British police and government. Murdoch himself was grilled by members of
Parliament today along with his son and a former top deputy in a tense
chose to turn their ire to the rest of the mainstream media, however, for its
fascination with the story in general.
News analyst Brit Hume made that point on the cable channel that evening. “You’d
expect there to be a lot of coverage in Great Britain, where Rupert Murdoch is
a very large figure and has a very large role in the nation’s media,” he said. “What’s
a little bit surprising is the extent of the coverage in the United States. And
there’s been something a touch gleeful about it from some of our and our boss
Mr. Murdoch’s competitors. Unmistakable.”
research shows that in the
period from July 6-15, Fox paid significantly less attention to the News of the
World scandal than its cable news counterparts. It did provide live coverage of
last week’s testimony before Parliament.)
the bulk of coverage occurred in the first half of the week, by July 21 the
media had some new developments to report on. The U.S. Department of Justice issued
subpoenas in its inquiry into whether
September 11 victims had their phones hacked by News Corp., and James Murdoch’s
testimony before Parliament was challenged by two former News of the World
Employees who claimed he knew the hacking was more widespread than he
The Rest of the
heat in the Midwest that then moved to the Eastern Seaboard broke records and
contributed to a number of deaths, all of which accounted for significant news
coverage. The No. 3 story of the week, the heat wave (5%) also drew somewhat
more attention as it moved East and toward the bigger media markets: The amount
of media attention on Thursday and Friday was double that of Monday and
No. 4 was the 2012 presidential campaign which, for yet another week, achieved
relatively little media attention. Coverage last week was driven by a mix of
news items about Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney’s poll numbers
and questions about the severity of Michele Bachmann’s migraine headaches.
at No. 5, was the return of the space shuttle Atlantis, marking the end of the
NASA shuttle program, and “ending the three-decade lifetime of a
technologically remarkable and versatile spacecraft, the likes of which the
world is unlikely to see for a very long time,” according to the Washington
Post on July 21.
July 18-24, Barack Obama was once again the top newsmaker of the week, as he
sought to reach a compromise with the Republican leadership on how to address
the federal budget and the national debt. Obama was a prominent newsmaker in 8%
of stories studied, down from 11% the week before. The other key figure in last
week’s negotiations, House Speaker John Boehner, was the No. 3 newsmaker at 2%
of stories. (To register as a dominant newsmaker, someone must be featured in
at least 50% of a story.)
was also a high level of media interest
on three key players in the News of the World hacking scandal, including
News Corp. Chairman Rupert Murdoch (No. 2 at 5% of stories), British Prime
Minister David Cameron (No. 4 at 2%), and former News of the World editor
Rebekah Brooks (No. 5 at 1%). Last week marked the second one in a row in which
Murdoch was the No. 2 newsmaker.
with Brooks (1% of stories) was Casey Anthony, now acquitted on the major
charges related to the death of her young daughter, and left to ward off the
attention of news organizations eager to catch a glimpse of her in public.
About the NCI
PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index examines the news agenda of 52 different
outlets from five sectors of the media: print, online, network TV, cable and
radio. (See List of Outlets.) The weekly study, which includes some 900
stories, is designed to provide news consumers, journalists and researchers
with hard data about what stories and topics the media are covering, the
trajectories of that media narrative and differences among news platforms. The
percentages are based on "newshole," or the space devoted to each
subject in print and online and time on radio and TV. (See Our
Methodology.) In addition, these reports also include a rundown of the
week’s leading newsmakers, a designation given to people who account for at
least 50% of a given story.
Jesse Holcomb of PEJ