January 15, 2009

Clinton and Economic Crisis Drive Obama Transition Coverage

Appointments and Logistics Economy Predictions and Evaluations
Nov 4-9 2008 44 19 20
Nov 10-16 2008 47 7 17
Nov 17-23 2008 64 6 8
Nov 24-30 2008 36 44 8
Dec 1-7 2008 62 11 7
Dec 8-14 2008 35 17 11
Dec 15-21 2008 55 11 3
Dec 29, 08- Jan 4, 09 22 12 11
Jan 5-11 2009 42 38 2
Average: Nov 4, 08 – Jan 11, 09 48 19 10

48% – Amount of Obama transition stories about appointments and logistics

Since Barack Obama’s victory on Nov. 4, the transition to the incoming administration has been a major theme in the news accounting for 16% of all the stories examined by PEJ’s News Coverage Index from Nov. 5-Jan. 11.  And one part of that story—his key appointees and the logistics of transferring power —has been dominant, accounting for nearly half (48%) the transition  stories. Not surprisingly, the most newsworthy appointment proved to be Obama’s Secretary of State designate Hillary Clinton. Media speculation in late November about her selection her as well as the official announcement in early December helped create the biggest spikes in coverage of new Cabinet picks.

But with the financial crisis appearing to deepen before he takes office, Obama’s response to that issue was the second-biggest aspect of transition coverage, accounting for 19% of those stories. Much of that coverage stemmed from the incoming President’s aggressive advocacy for quick action on a stimulus package. The third most prominent theme of the transition, at 10% of the stories, involved predictions and evaluations of Obama’s performance and competency, although that coverage has tapered off in recent weeks. One example was Bob Schieffer on CBS contrasting Obama’s more deliberate and measured transition style with that of former President Bill Clinton.

Several other events also became major, if temporary, contributors to coverage of the new administration. The controversy over Obama’s selection of Pastor Rick Warren to deliver the invocation was a big reason why inauguration coverage accounted for 17% of the transition stories the week of Dec. 8-14. And the Gaza conflict had a significant impact the week of Dec. 29—Jan. 4, when global policy challenges accounted for 18% of transition coverage.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ