October 21, 2009

Foreign Leaders in U.S. Headlines

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad 145
Benjamin Netanyahu 87
Hamid Karzai 55
Manuel Zelaya 55
Mir Hossein Mousavi 47
Kim Jong Il 46
Ayatollah Khamenei 30
Muammar Gaddafi 26
Dmitry Medvedev 24
Aung San Suu Kyi 21

#3 – Rank of Hamid Karzai among most covered foreign officials in 2009

Concerns about corruption marring the August 20 election in Afghanistan and growing pressure for a runoff (which he agreed to this week) put Afghan President Hamid Karzai among the top dozen newsmakers from October 12-18, 2009. So far this year, Karzai has been a lead newsmaker in 55 stories, making him the third most-covered foreign official, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. (To register as a lead newsmaker, someone must be included in at least 50% of a story.)  Much of this attention centered on the elections and aftermath of the vote, but the escalating violence in Afghanistan also kept him in the spotlight throughout the year.

But even with the recent spate of attention, Karzai trails far behind the top newsmaker among overseas leaders this year. That designation goes to Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was a lead newsmaker in 145 stories. The June 12 Iranian election, which sparked protests across the country, accounted for much of that coverage. But the continuing attention to Iran’s controversial nuclear program—the subject of ongoing negotiations—contributed as well. The media focus on Iran is highlighted by the fact that two other key officials from that country are among the top newsmakers—Mir Hossein Mousavi (No. 5 at 47 stories), Ahmadinejad’s rival in the recent elections, and Ayatollah Ali Hoseyni Khamenei (No. 7 at 30 stories), the Supreme Leader of Iran.

Two other leaders in that volatile region made the top 10 list in 2009.  Ranking behind Ahmadinejad, at No. 2, is Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (87 stories), who took office in March and has been a central figure as U.S. diplomacy has focused on restarting peace talks between the Israelis and Palestinians. Libyan leader Muammar Gaddaffi was the eighth-biggest newsmaker (26 stories), with much of that coverage generated by his rambling speech at the UN on September 23.

Deposed Honduran President Manuel Zelaya (tied with Karzai for third place with 55 stories), has been in the news following the June military coup and his country’s continuing political crisis. In sixth place is North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il (46 stories), with coverage driven by speculation about his health and a possible successor.  Rounding out the top 10 list were Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (No. 9 at 24 stories) and Aung San Suu Kyi ( No. 9 with 21 stories), the opposition politician under house arrest in Myanmar.

All of these overseas officials, however, were eclipsed in the U.S. media by the leader of this nation. So far in 2009, Barack Obama has been a lead newsmaker in 6,134 stories.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ