With oil still
gushing and criticism mounting, the runaway deep-sea well in the Gulf of Mexico
topped the mainstream news agenda last week for the fifth consecutive time—making
it one of the biggest stories of the year so far.
accounted for 34% of the newshole from June 7-13, according to the Pew Research
Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Although coverage has decreased slightly
each of the past two weeks, the spill has become the first story in 14 months to
command at least 30% of the newshole for three consecutive weeks. (The economy,
driven by the debate over the stimulus package, did so for nine weeks in 2009,
from late January through late March.)
Last week, the
narrative appeared to be shifting somewhat. While efforts to contain and clean
the spill still led the coverage—as they have in recent weeks—questions about
the effectiveness of the response by well-owner BP and the government gained a
larger share of attention. And commentators on both the left and the right stepped
up criticism of President Obama’s leadership in the crisis.
weeks, the spill has become a dominant topic on cable news and from June 7-13,
the cable outlets devoted more than 60% of the airtime studied to that
subject—by far the most of any media sector. Much of that coverage was fuelled
by a discussion of growing dissatisfaction with the efforts of Obama and BP.
week’s mid-term primaries—the biggest day of voting until the November main
event—accounted for 12% of the newshole, making it the second-biggest story. Coverage
focused on several women candidates who won nominations to key offices, such as
the gubernatorial races in California and South Carolina. Many media outlets,
looking for an overarching theme, dubbed it “Ladies Night.”
was the No. 3 story last week, but for the third week in a row it accounted for
a relatively modest 6% of the newshole. With public anger about the federal
budget deficit growing almost as quickly as the red ink, Democrats last week
pared their latest jobs bill to save money. Also, Federal Reserve chairman Ben
Bernanke pronounced the deficits “unsustainable.”
The war in
Afghanistan came in at No. 4, accounting for 4% of the coverage. It was a
particularly bloody week in the war as a suicide bomber hit a wedding—killing
more than 40—and NATO forces took more casualties.
the top stories (No. 5 at 3%) were developments in the 2005 disappearance of
Natalee Holloway, an Alabama woman who went missing while on a high-school
graduation trip to Aruba. A long-time suspect in her killing, Joran van der
Sloot, was arrested in another killing in Peru and police say he told them he
knows where her body is.
The Oil Spill Saga Continues
At 34% of the
newshole last week, coverage of the Gulf spill dropped off only marginally from
the two previous weeks (35% and 38%). The story topped all media sectors
except radio, where it was eclipsed by last week’s primary elections.
And in 2010 to
date, the environmental disaster has become the No 3 story overall, trailing
only the economy and health care.
There was a discernable
shift in the coverage last week as oil began to wash up on the shores of more
states, forcing the shutdown of more fishing grounds. Slightly more than half
the media coverage still pertained to the impact of the spill and efforts to
contain and clean it up. But a growing percentage of the coverage—more than
40%—was devoted to questions about BP’s responsibility and the federal
progress last week in capturing oil escaping from its disabled well on the
bottom of the gulf, providing a glimmer of hope. But those hopes were quickly
dashed as new estimates came out that suggested far more oil has been spilled
than previously thought, heightening worries about the impact on the
environment and economies of the gulf states. And the anger at BP seemed to
increase from a number of quarters.
Cooper, for example, chastised the oil company for what he said was a failure
to level with Americans about the magnitude of the disaster. He cited faulty
estimates of the oil flow as well as the reluctance of the British company to
release video of the underwater gusher and its efforts to thwart media
“We have not
been getting the real story—the truth—from Day 1,” Cooper said on June 9 while
on location on the Louisiana coast. “Today BP is saying the cap at the cut
riser pipe is capturing 15,000 barrels a day. They have never even admitted
that 15,000 barrels were coming out of the leak.”
His guest, Democratic
political consultant and Louisiana resident James Carville, expressed an
increasingly common frustration with the federal government. “The Louisiana
coast is being invaded right now, literally we’re being invaded by this oil and
I’m waiting for somebody to say ‘Hey, we’re going to fight them on the
estuaries, we’re going to fight them on the beaches, we’re going to fight them
on the bay.’”
appearance on Keith Olbermann’s MSNBC Countdown program on June 7, Newsweek
senior White House correspondent Howard Fineman also took the president to task
for his handling of the crisis.
“I think he
doesn’t fully understand just how deep and widespread that rage is. It’s bipartisan,
it’s coast to coast,” Fineman said. “Barack Obama seems sometimes to act like
he is in a courtroom dealing with a reasonable witness.
During an June
9 appearance on the Sean Hannity show on Fox, former GOP presidential candidate
Mitt Romney added his voice to the criticism saying, “At a time like this what
politicians try to do is find a scapegoat…this president has been looking for
people to blame instead of taking responsibility for leading the way to get
this spill capped.”
took on an international aspect, too, as some British leaders came to the
defense of BP, one of that nation’s industrial giants whose stock is widely
held in pension funds.
Voters go the Polls
In the biggest
day of voting before the November mid-term elections, 12 states nominated
candidates for a host of state and federal offices last week. The June 8 elections
were the second biggest story of the week, accounting for 12% of the newshole,
but led in only one sector, radio (at 23% of the airtime studied). The previous
big set of primaries on May 18 saw the ouster of some big-name politicians such
as Pennsylvania’s Sen. Arlen Specter and accounted for 18% of the newshole from
contrast to that balloting, there seemed to be few clear narratives to explain
last week’s results. Even Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln, considered among the
most vulnerable of incumbents, managed to defeat a well-funded challenger to
stay on the ballot as a Democrat.
Washington Post reported on June 9, “She was one of several women from both
parties to emerge victorious on a ‘Super Duper Tuesday’ of primaries that
included gains by ‘tea party’ candidates in some states but also survival of
incumbents in others, and that overall did not provide a uniform storyline
about the nation’s political mood.”
voters nominated two businesswomen to represent Republicans in a pair of key
races. Former eBay CEO Meg Whitman will face off against former governor Jerry
Brown Jr. to succeed Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.
And former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina will try to take the Senate seat
of Barbara Boxer. Sharron Angle, a former Nevada lawmaker who was backed by the
tea party, won the nomination to take on Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid. And
in South Carolina, State Representative Nikki Haley came in first in the GOP
primary to run for governor, though she failed to avoid a runoff with the
CBS correspondent Whit Johnson, reporting on the results the next morning for
the CBS Early Show, said “It was the biggest election day of the year heading
into November, it came with a few surprises, but the biggest story was ‘ladies
during the week included a widely reported open-mike incident when Fiorina was
caught belittling her opponent’s hairstyle. There were also a number of stories
that speculated that Reid may have dodged a bullet because Angle was a
politically weaker candidate than some of her primary opponents would have
Budget Worries, Battle Deaths and the
Rest of the News
the third-biggest story last week, the economy (6%), was driven in part by
concerns about a “double dip” recession as data revealed an uneven view of the
recovery. Stocks gyrated and retail sales fell. But new claims for unemployment
and foreclosure filings were also down.
In a June 9
story on the latest report from the Federal Reserve Bank, USAToday.com captured
the ambiguity: “In the new survey, manufacturing picked up, retail sales grew,
tourism improved and housing was helped by the now-expired tax credit for
homebuyers. But commercial real estate is weak and labor market conditions
improved only ‘slightly.’"
war in Afghanistan (4% of the newshole) passed a number of grim milestones. On
June 7, seven American servicemen were killed, the most in a single day this
year in a war now recognized as America’s longest.
police reported a break in a cold case that accounted for 3% of the newshole.
Natalee Holloway hasn’t been seen since 2005 when she disappeared on a trip to
Aruba. The story of her disappearance was the focus of intense media attention
at the time and last week a suspect in that case reportedly confessed to an
unrelated killing in Peru. Police there said the accused, a 22-year-old Dutch
man named Joran van der Sloot, told them he knew where Holloway’s body was.
Newsmakers of the Week
was once again the top newsmaker from June 7-13, finishing as the lead
newsmaker in 6% of the stories, although that was down from 9% the week before.
(To be a lead newsmaker, a figure must appear in at least half of a story).
Coming in at
No. 2 was Joran Van der Sloot (3%), the suspect in the killing of Natalee
Holloway. It was the second week in a row he has been among the top newsmakers.
The rescue at
sea of 16-year-old Abby Sunderland (2%), during her attempt to become the
youngest sailor to circle the globe, made her the week’s No. 3 newsmaker
A pair of winning
politicians came in fourth and fifth: Arkansas Sen. Blanche Lincoln (2%), who
beat back a labor-backed challenger to win the Democratic nomination for the
Senate, and Carly Fiorina (also at 2%) who won the right to take on incumbent
Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer in California.
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 1,100 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 or institutions who account for at least 50% of a given story.
Jon Morgan of PEJ