On his Dec. 12 radio show, conservative host Sean Hannity
was full of holiday bad tidings for Hillary Clinton’s presidential effort.
“The polls are now just awful for the Hillary campaign,” he
declared. “There’s a lot of infighting now being reported. Not only is she
losing in Iowa, now the polls
show she is losing in New Hampshire.”
The former First Lady didn’t fare much better on the Dec. 10
edition of MSNBC’s Hardball when host Chris Matthews announced his weekly
“power rankings.” (That’s a concept lifted from the sports world where teams
are constantly evaluated and rated according to their most recent
“Who had the absolute worst week last week?” asked Matthews.
“Hillary Clinton. She spent her time sniping at Obama….she came off less
inspired and simply annoyed this past week that someone else was exciting the
With more manifest glee, conservative radio talker Rush
Limbaugh reached for a Wizard of Oz wicked witch analogy in discussing the Clinton
campaign’s purported troubles. People have been emailing all morning “asking me
‘do you believe it’s the end for Hillary?’” Limbaugh remarked on Dec. 14.
“Until I see the house fall on her…and the legs curl up [and] the body in the
casket, she is not dead, she is not finished.”
With the apparent tightening Democratic contest between
Clinton and Barack Obama, the 2008 Presidential campaign overwhelmed the talk
universe last week. The subject accounted for half of all the airtime (50%) in
the cable and radio shows studied in PEJ’s Talk Show Index from Dec. 9-14. That
made it the single biggest week for the campaign on the 12 talk shows in the
index, topping the previous high water mark of 47% from Nov. 11-16. (Last week
also marked the biggest week for campaign coverage (26%) in the general News
Coverage Index, which measures coverage in 48 different news outlets.)
The second-biggest talk topic last week was U.S.
domestic terrorism. It was fueled by the controversy over the destroyed
terrorist interrogation tapes, but it lagged far behind the campaign in airtime
(at 12%). Next was the steroids scandal
blown wide open by the release of the report issued by former Senator George
Mitchell last week, which accounted for 6% of airtime. The fourth-biggest story
was immigration policy, at 5%. And various stories about the Christmas season
made up the fifth-biggest story, at 3%.
PEJ’s Talk Show Index, released each week, is designed to provide news
consumers, journalists and researchers with hard data about what stories and
topics are most frequently dissected and discussed in the media universe of
talk and opinion—a segment of the media that spans across both prime time cable
and radio. (See About the Talk Show Index.) PEJ’s Talk Show Index
includes seven prime time cable shows and five radio talk hosts and is a subset
of our News Coverage Index.
There was plenty to talk about last week in the campaign,
including two Iowa debates (the
moderator was widely criticized for imposing too much control), Mike Huckabee’s
surge toward the top of the Republican pack, and the Oprah Winfrey road show on
behalf of Barack Obama.
But Hillary Clinton’s role as the candidate of most interest
to the media, and especially as a lightning rod in talk radio, continues to stand
out. PEJ studies throughout the year have found Clinton
to be dominant newsmaker among all the candidates. In the period from July through
September, indeed, she was the leading newsmaker in roughly twice as many campaign
stories (16%) as her closest coverage rivals, Barack Obama and Fred Thompson
(both at 8%).
dominance as a subject is amplified on talk radio. In the third quarter, she
was the lead newsmaker in 31% of all talk campaign segments in that period with
the closest pursuer, Obama, all the way back at 7%, according to PEJ’s
quarterly analysis. Moreover,
talk radio is a medium dominated by conservatives and led by Rush Limbaugh, a
man who has built a six-figure audience and income, in part, by going after
Bill and Hillary Clinton since the early 1990’s.
Last week, for example, while conservative talkers such as
Limbaugh and Hannity were hammering away on the theme of Clinton’s
faltering campaign, their liberal counterparts Ed Schultz and Randi Rhodes were
much quieter on the election.
In a Dec. 19 Washington Post story, media critic Howard
Kurtz raised the broader issue of whether Clinton was being treated more
harshly by the press than her opponents—or at least her main rival Obama. “Clinton's
senior advisers have grown convinced that the media deck is stacked against
them, that their candidate is drawing far harsher scrutiny than Barack Obama,”
If they didn’t like what they were getting in the
reportorial media, they may need to shut their ears when the talk media are on.
On his Dec. 10 MSNBC show Tucker Carlson declared that, “By
most of the standard measures—polls, money, press and perceived trajectory—it is
less and less clear that Hillary Clinton is still the Democratic frontrunner and
Barack Obama the challenger.”
That message was driven home visually four nights
later on the Fox News Channel’s Hannity & Colmes program. There the
campaign conversation included a YouTube video showing a former Clinton
precinct captain in Iowa
ostentatiously pulling her Clinton sign
out of her snowy front lawn and replacing it with an Obama sign.
Politico’s Mike Allen captured the spirit of that
moment by noting that, “I saw today Senator Clinton’s campaign described as
Between those hosts ideologically and unalterably
opposed to Hillary Clinton and those simply hoping for the excitement of a
tighter Democratic race, the talk universe was abuzz with “Hillary’s in
Trouble” scenarios last week.
Steroids, and a Soft Spot for Bonds
The furor unleashed when the Mitchell report
identified about 90 ballplayers who allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs
didn’t really catch fire in the talk show world last week. At 6% of the
newshole, it generated slightly less attention there than in the more general
News Index (7%). Ironically, one of the talk hosts to broach the issue was
conservative contrarian Michael Savage, even though he acknowledged he is not a
sports fan. Still, that didn’t keep him from claiming clairvoyance when the
Mitchell report was released.
“I understand there’s a big steroid scandal in the
baseball world,” Savage told his listeners on Dec. 13. “I was right again. When
they went after Barry Bonds, if you recall, I was the only one in the media who
said ‘leave him alone, it looks like racism to me to pick on this guy.’ You’re
picking on him when everybody is using steroids or at least a lot of them are.”
Maybe the San Francisco-based Savage was just
showing some geographic loyalty. Bonds played in his city the past 15 years. Whatever
the reason, it was more of a classically liberal argument for the conservative
Savage to be using the R-word (racism) in Bonds’ defense.
Mark Jurkowitz of PEJ
1. 2008 Campaign - 50%
2. U.S. Domestic Terrorism and Prevention - 12%
3. Baseball Steroids Scandal - 6%
Top Ten Stories in the Talk Show Index
4. Immigration - 5%
5. Holiday Season - 3%
6. Iran - 2%
7. Iraq Policy Debate - 1%
8. Global Warming - 1%
9. U.S. Economy - 1%
10. C.I.A. Leak Case- 1%
Top Ten Stories in the broader News Coverage Index
1. 2008 Campaign - 26%
2. Baseball Steroids Scandal - 7%
3. U.S. Domestic Terrorism and Prevention - 7%
4. Deep Freeze in Plain States - 6%
5. Events in Iraq - 4%
6. U.S. Economy - 3%
7. Colorado Church Shootings - 3%
8. Global Warming - 3%
9. Immigration - 2%
10. Algerian UN Blast - 2%
Click here to read the methodology behind the Talk Show Index.