Terrorism, Tight Credit, and Tragedies Emerge in the News in Third Quarter
The threat of terrorism, a real estate recession, and man-made disasters all emerged as major stories in the American news media in the third quarter of 2007, according to a new study of press coverage.
While the media continued to pay the most attention to the war in Iraq and the presidential campaign, in the third quarter they also trained more scrutiny on three new threats to the nation’s well being—a reconstituted Al Qaeda, the implosion of the sub-prime mortgage market, and crumbling infrastructure, a close look at the third quarter of media coverage by the Project for Excellence in Journalism finds.
Of the three threats, terrorism generated the most attention. It emerged as the quarter’s fourth-biggest story, after the war debate, the presidential campaign, and coverage inside Iraq. Based partly on events (strange devices confiscated at airports) and partly on perception (Homeland Security boss Michael Chertoff’s “gut feeling” about an attack), coverage of U.S. terror concerns nearly tripled from the second to the third quarter.
And among various disasters that generated substantial coverage in the third quarter, the most prominent was the Aug. 1 collapse of the I-35W Bridge in Minneapolis. The accident that claimed 13 lives was the fifth-biggest story of the summer, and seemed to resurrect nagging doubts about U.S. infrastructure initially raised by Hurricane Katrina.
The war still hovered, but in a new way. The debate over U.S. policy in Iraq—the dominant story early in the year—generated only modest coverage for many weeks of the quarter. But saturation coverage surrounding General David Petraeus’ status report to Congress in September was enough to still make it the No. 1 story in the news outlets covered in PEJ’s index of news media. That pushed the race for president, the No. 1 story in the previous three months, to No. 2, even though the level of reporting remained the same.
These are some of the findings drawn from the third quarterly report of the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index (NCI), a content analysis of a broad cross-section of American news media.
One new feature of PEJ’s third quarterly report of the year is the designation of “leading newsmakers,” individuals or events who were the dominant subjects in the highest percentage of stories.
Befitting a three-month period in which much of the news was gloomy, the roster of top five newsmakers included three criminal defendants—Idaho Senator Larry Craig, arrested for allegedly propositioning a police officer in a restroom; Michael Vick, the former Atlanta quarterback charged in connection with a dog fighting ring; and O.J. Simpson, accused of kidnapping and other offenses in a hotel room showdown over sports memorabilia.
Going further down the list, one of the leading newsmakers was a U.S. global adversary—Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Among other key findings in the third quarterly report of the PEJ’s News Coverage Index:
The third quarter report of PEJ’s News Coverage Index is based on the Project’s weekly NCI, which examines the news agenda of 48 different outlets from five sectors of the media and allows a snapshot of the media agenda—what topics the media are choosing to highlight and which they are not.
The quarterly report considers 13 weeks of data together, almost 18,000 stories, allowing for deeper analysis across time, including comparisons of different news organizations and, in the case of television, even different programs on the same network.
The Project for Excellence in Journalism, which is non-partisan and non-political, is one of eight projects that make up the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C., a “fact tank” funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.