alleged sexual assault with international ramifications was the No. 1 topic in
the mainstream media last week. But two other stories connected to domestic
politics combined for nearly a quarter of the newshole, as coverage of the 2012
presidential campaign reached a high water mark.
May 16-22, the No. 1 story (at 15%) was the May 15 arrest of International
Monetary Fund head Dominique Strauss-Kahn
on rape charges, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence
in Journalism. The stunning news about the man the media quickly dubbed “DSK”
had news organizations chronicling every bounce in his fall from grace.
Donald Trump and Mike Huckabee opting out of the race and Newt Gingrich getting
in, the presidential campaign was the No. 3 story, accounting for 11% of the
newshole and reaching double digits for the first time. As usual, it received
more play on cable (24%) and radio (20%), two sectors where political debate and
opinion tend to dominate.
No. 2 story was about an international situation, but it also took on domestic
political overtones. Coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (11%) was
marked by President Obama’s May 19 speech on the Mideast that was quickly condemned
by Republicans—thus setting up one of the foreign policy battles for 2012. Last
week marked the most media attention to the Israel-Palestine situation since
May 31-June 6, 2010, when Israel’s interdiction of a flotilla headed toward
Gaza, which resulted in the deaths of nine people, filled 13% of the newshole.
week’s fourth-biggest story was the U.S. economy (9%), with the media continuing
to monitor the debate in Washington over spending, triggered anew by the
federal government officially hitting its debt limit on Tuesday.
the death of Osama bin Laden continued to make news at 7% of the newshole. But
it is quickly falling off the media map. One week earlier, the subject had
filled 24% of the newshole, which was down dramatically from 69% three weeks
Campaign: Two Departures and a Rocky Start
slow but steady ascent of the 2012 campaign in the media’s agenda can largely
be attributed to the winnowing down of the field of possible GOP contenders. Last
week’s election coverage focused on two Republican hopefuls who decided not to
run and one who recently jumped in. As for that candidate, former House
Speaker Newt Gingrich, it was a rocky stumble—or series of
stumbles—into the race.
Monday, the media were still parsing through the implications of former Arkansas
Governor Mike Huckabee’s decision not to run for president. Huckabee announced
live on his May 14 Fox News Channel program that he would not run, despite most
polls showing him with about a quarter of the Republican vote.
Jonathan Karl on Good Morning America suggested that the announcement brings
the Republican Party back to square one: “Huckabee’s decision takes a big-name
Republican out of the running and leaves the Republicans exactly where they
have been—without a clear choice to take on Barack Obama.” Karl described the
Republican field as one “crowded with candidates, and problems.”
on Monday, another contender, developer Donald Trump—who had generated considerable
media attention for his blunt policy pronouncements and questioning of Obama’s
citizenship—announced he would not run, prompting media outlets to weave in
some variation of “you’re fired” into their leads. That was a reference to
Trump’s NBC reality TV program, The Apprentice.
another candidate with a knack for making news, formally entered the race with
a Twitter announcement and Youtube video on May 11. And two days later, he raised
eyebrows in a speech where he derided Barack Obama as a “food stamp president.”
was one thing for Gingrich to anger critics on the left. But on May 15, in an
interview with David Gregory on NBC’s Meet the Press, he offended the GOP base
by criticizing the Medicare overhaul advocated by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, as
“right-wing social engineering.”
liberal host Rachel Maddow offered her own view of the consequences on her May
17 program: “Newt Gingrich has been, this week, all but thrown out of the
Republican Party, let alone the list of credible presidential contenders after he
criticized the Paul Ryan ‘kill Medicare’ plan.”
receiving flack from the right, Gingrich backpedaled, even calling Ryan to
some damage was done, and Gingrich’s words served as a warning to other GOP
contenders. The Washington Post’s Chris Cilizza, in a May 22 post on his
Washington Post blog, wrote “For Republicans running for president in 2012,
there’s a new political reality: Support Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget plan—or else.”
rough opening fed into what had already been part of the media narrative about
the former Speaker—that he was, at times, unpredictable and undisciplined. On
May 17, NBC anchor Brian Williams
pointed out that “just two days ago on Meet the Press with David Gregory
[Gingrich said] “the central test he’s going to face in the 2012 campaign will
be whether or not he has the discipline and the judgment to be president. Well,
in just the last 48 hours, it’s been a rough go, a tough rollout for Mr.
on the Mideast
week’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian issue was triggered by a May 19 Obama
speech from the State Department on the changes rippling through the Arab world.
And it was his statement on the 1967 Israeli borders that got everyone’s
attention. Obama stated that those were the borders that should be the basis of
an Israel-Palestine deal.
Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who was to visit the United States the
following day, immediately made news by protesting, saying such an arrangement
would render Israel “indefensible.” The speech was also denounced by several
prominent Republicans, including potential presidential candidates Mitt Romney
and Jon Huntsman, as well as declared candidate Newt Gingrich. On May 20, Obama
and Netanyahu met at the White House in what appeared to be a strained affair.
remarks also appeared to anger many commentators on the right. “We have had a
major shift in American foreign policy, and it is not a good one,” said Sean
Hannity on his May 19 radio broadcast.
journalists pointed to the domestic political implications of the speech and
the strained meeting of the two leaders. “It is a remarkable public airing of a
disagreement among friends; it immediately rippled through our domestic
politics as well,” said John King on CNN that Friday.
breaking news event that generated the most attention last week was the arrest
of IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn on May 15. Strauss-Kahn found himself inundated
by cameras and microphones as he was shuttled from the airport to the court
room, then to the city jail and finally house arrest.
arrest, on charges of trying to rape a hotel maid, became a cautionary tale of
how the mighty have fallen, as the media chronicled his detainment, denial of
bail, imprisonment on Rikers Island, and ultimately his resignation from the
IMF toward the end of the week.
the New York Times put it on May 20, “A week ago, Dominique Strauss-Kahn was a
man of international stature and influence. By Friday, he had become something
of a pariah, turned away from the Upper East Side luxury building he sought to
inhabit and stuck on Rikers Island.”
media explored other themes as they covered the disgraced French leader,
including the impact on French politics, the seedier aspects of the culture at
the global development institution, and the future leadership of the IMF. One
NPR segment from May 19 summarized the feelings of many in non-Western
countries that the task of running the IMF should not necessarily go to a
European. “They say the West no longer dominates the global economy the way it
once did, and allowing Europe to dominate the Fund no longer reflects reality,”
the report stated.
Strauss-Kahn found himself in the unwelcome position of being the top newsmaker
in the week of May 16-22, as he appeared as a dominant newsmaker in 12% of all
stories studied by PEJ. (To be a dominant newsmaker, 50% of the story must be
about that person).
was enough coverage to surpass that of Barack Obama, himself the focus of 11%
of stories in a week that contained a major speech on the Middle East. (That
coverage was up from 8% the week before).
other newsmakers—Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver—drew media attention
for the end of their high-profile marriage, which fell apart after the former
governor admitted to fathering a child with the couple’s housekeeper about 14
years ago. Schwarzenegger was the No. 3 newsmaker last week, featuring
prominently in 5% of stories, and Shriver, a prominent member of the Kennedy
clan, was No. 5 (2% of stories).
at No. 4, was Newt Gingrich, the Republican candidate for president who perhaps
did more last week to stall his campaign than to advance it. He was the focus
of 4% of stories studied.
About the NCI
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.
The weekly study, which includes some 1,000 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