As coverage of the crowded and unsettled 2008 Presidential
race has accelerated in recent months, one recurring story line has focused not
on the 19 candidates already in the race—but on a few people still on the
With surveys indicating that Republicans are less satisfied
with their party’s presidential hopefuls than Democrats, a good deal of this
coverage has focused on former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich and former
Republican Senator Fred Thompson, with the latter expected to enter the race
soon. On the Democratic side, there’s been occasional coverage speculating on a
possible bid by former Vice President Al Gore.
But New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s June 19 announcement that
he was dropping his Republican affiliation triggered a frenzy of speculation
that is unusual even in this media-saturated campaign season. Although
Bloomberg has downplayed any desire to seek the White House, the prospect of
the largely non-ideological billionaire running as an independent candidate
jolted the political Richter scale.
The 2008 presidential contest was the leading story last
week, filing 11% of the newshole in the period from June 17-22, according to
PEJ’s News Coverage Index. (It was the top event in the cable (18%) and radio
(12%) sectors last week.) And about 45% of all the campaign stories PEJ
examined involved Bloomberg.
It seemed like everybody was talking about New
York’s mayor. He and California Governor Arnold
Schwarzenegger were the smiling cover boys on the June 25 issue of Time magazine.
Writing in the June 24 Washington Post, Ed Rollins, who helped direct Ross
Perot’s 1992 third-party candidacy, basically embraced the idea of a Bloomberg
run in a column headlined, “Come on In, Mike. It Could Be a Wild Ride.”
“Here at home, a political bombshell tonight,” was how CBS
anchor Russ Mitchell broke the news of Bloomberg’s party change on the June 19
newscast. “There has been speculation Bloomberg might run for president as an
“Can a brilliant—and he is—successful—and he
is—competent—he’s proven to be—Jewish executive be elected President of the United
States?” That’s the question liberal radio
talk host Ed Schultz asked his listeners on June 20.
That same day Bloomberg’s hometown paper, The New York
Times, ran this page-one headline that was sober without foreclosing any
options: “Bloomberg Cuts Ties to G.O.P., Fueling Further Talk of ’08 Bid: Mayor
Faults Both Parties as Timid on Big Issues.”
While the Bloomberg boomlet fueled coverage of the White
House race, violence and tensions in the Middle East
also generated major attention last week. The major U.S.
offensive, “Operation Arrowhead Ripper,” against Iraq
insurgents helped make events in that country the second-biggest story of the
week (9%). The situation on the ground in Iraq
was the top story in the newspaper (10%), online (15%) and network TV (12%)
Given the continuing fallout from the Palestinian fighting that
effectively gave Hamas control of the Gaza Strip and left Fatah in charge of
the West Bank, the Palestinian crisis was next at 7%.
Two breaking-news tragedies also made the top-10 story list.
The disappearance of pregnant Ohio
woman Jessie Davis (her body was subsequently found and her boyfriend charged
with her murder), was the fourth-biggest story at 5%. And the June 18 furniture
store blaze that claimed nine firefighters in Charleston,
South Carolina was the number six story at
Immigration was the fifth-biggest story (4%) with the fate
of the controversial immigration bill hanging in the balance. While coverage is
likely to spike if there is a final legislative showdown this week, the story
cooled a bit last week after being the top subject from June 10-15.
PEJ’s News Coverage Index is a study of the
news agenda of 48 different outlets from five sectors of the media. (See a List of Outlets.) It is designed to provide news
consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and
topics the media are covering, the trajectories of major stories and
differences among news platforms. (See Our Methodology.)
News about the Iraq
war last week also confirmed a recent pattern in the coverage. Given the
military offensive and the announcement that 14 U.S.
troops had died in a two-day period, events in Iraq
constituted the second-biggest story. With a number of stories focused on care
given to wounded veterans returning from Iraq
the impact of the war at home was also a top-10 story last week (eighth at 2%).
At the same time, the Iraq policy debate—the
Washington-based battle over war strategy—generated only 1% of last week’s coverage
and failed to make the top-10 story list. Those findings are indicative of a
trend in recent weeks in which coverage of the political debate over the war has
For the first three months of this year, PEJ found that the
policy debate was the leading news subject by a large margin, accounting for
12% of all the coverage. (The next biggest story was the 2008 campaign at 7%.) But
on May 24, after a lengthy political showdown, Congress approved war funding
without including troop withdrawal timetables. Since then—in the period from
May 27-June 22—the policy debate has been the sixth-biggest story attracting 3%
of the coverage. This suggests that the May 24 vote was viewed as a major
victory for President Bush over the Democratic-led Congress that, temporarily,
brought some kind of resolution to the policy fight.
There is reason to believe the subject will heat up again in
September (if not sooner), when General David Petraeus is slated to deliver his
much-anticipated progress report on the U.S.
For the second week in a row, Palestinian conflict was a
top-five story as the action moved from the battlefield to the diplomatic arena
as the U.S. and
its allies tried to bolster the new Fatah-based government of Palestinian
President Mahmoud Abbas.
President Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met in
Washington last week to discuss
the new situation in the Palestinian territories. And a June 21 NPR “Morning
Edition Report” that speculated on the likelihood of an Israeli military
assault against the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip reported that “the Israeli
government is trying to figure out how to deal with the newly divided Palestinian
Yet for all the concern about the Middle East,
presidential race generated the most media attention for the second time in
three weeks. And if speculation about Michael Bloomberg joining the fray fueled
much of that coverage, it was a pretty good week for another possible entry as
“He’s not even officially running yet, but Republican Fred
Thompson is certainly shaking up the race for his party’s presidential
nomination,” declared Fox News Channel daytime anchor Jane Skinner on June 19.
The good news for the ex-Senator and “Law & Order” star?
A new Rasmussen Reports poll among likely Republican primary voters revealed
that Thompson, while still not officially a candidate, is now leading the GOP
field, topping previous frontrunner Rudy Giuliani by a razor slim 28% to 27%
“What it really is telling us,” said pollster Scott
Rasmussen, “is the rest of the field hasn’t caught fire.”
Mark Jurkowitz of PEJ