September 9, 2011

Controversies, Not Commemorations, Make 9/11 News

% of newshole
Koran Burning & Anniv. 9/6-9/12/2010 19.4
Mosque 8/16-8/22 2010 14.7
Mosque 8/23-8/29 2010 6.1
Anniv. 9/8-9/14 2008 5.9
Anniv. 9/7-9/13 2009 5.5
Anniv. 9/9-9/14 2007 4.8
Anniv. 9/6-9/12 2010 4.8
Responders Bill 12/20- 12/26/2010 3.4

19.4% – Biggest Week of 9/11-related news in the past five years

Coverage related to the events of 9/11/2001 has become a staple of the news agenda, often timed around the anniversary of the terrorist attacks. But in recent years, bitter controversies involving Islam—rather than remembrances or commemorations—have driven that 9/11 coverage.

The biggest week of 9/11-related coverage since PEJ began tracking news in January 2007 occurred from September 6-12, 2010, when the subject accounted for 19.4% of the newshole.  But it was media attention to Terry Jones—the pastor of a small church in Florida who threatened to burn the Koran on 9/11—that accounted for 70% of that coverage. Remembrances and dedications surrounding the anniversary accounted for just 30%.

The controversy over building an Islamic Center near Ground Zero has also generated significant attention in recent years. The No. 2 week of 9/11-connected coverage occurred from August 16-22, 2010, when President Obama seemed to offer a message of support for the project. The mosque debate filled 14.7% of the newshole that week. One week later (August 23-29), the same subject accounted for 6.1% of the overall newshole, making it the third-biggest week of 9/11-related attention.

Two weeks that focused on 9/11 anniversary remembrances and memorials round out the top five list. They were September 8-14, 2008 (5.9% of the overall newshole) and September 7-13, 2009 (5.5%).

One distinctly different kind of 9/11 story registered as No. 8 on the list, at 3.4%, the week of December 20-26, 2010. It was the passage of the 9/11 Health and Compensation Act which provides health monitoring and financial aid to 9/11 responders and was approved only after considerable political skirmishing and a GOP filibuster.

This list also does not include one other major event that ended up as the biggest single-week story since PEJ began the News Coverage Index. The killing of al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden by Navy Seals generated 69% of the overall coverage from May 2-8, 2011.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ