October 8, 2008

Headlines of the Rich, Famous, and Infamous

Number of Stories
O.J. Simpson 114
Roger Clemens 79
Heath Ledger 71
Marrion Jones 67
Michael Phelps 65
Sean Taylor 62
Barry Bonds 51
Oprah Winfrey 47
Britney Spears 45
Prince Harry 40

#1—O.J. Simpson’s rank among celebrity newsmakers in the last year

On October 3—the 13th anniversary of O.J. Simpson’s acquittal in his 1995 murder trial—the former football player was convicted of robbery, kidnapping, and assault with a deadly weapon. These charges stem from a September 2007 confrontation in which Simpson was accused of robbing two sports memorabilia dealers in a Las Vegas hotel. Even though Simpson’s recent trial generated far less media attention than his murder case, he still got more media exposure than any other celebrity in the past 12 months. According to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, he was a lead newsmaker in 114 stories from October 5, 2007 – October 5, 2008—meaning he factored into at least 50% of all those stories. (Our celebrity list excluded political figures or public officials and media news figures).

Athletes—or former athletes— dominated the list of top 10 celebrity newsmakers in the past 12 months. And often, it wasn’t good news. Three of them generated headlines largely because of allegations of steroid use—former pitching star Roger Clemens (No. 2 at 79 stories); Olympic Gold Medal winner Marion Jones (No. 4 at 67 stories); and career home run leader Barry Bonds (No. 7 at 51 stories). The tragic shooting death of Washington Redskins star Sean Taylor made him the sixth-leading newsmaker, at 62 stories. And the only athlete to generate a good-news narrative was Michael Phelps (No. 5 at 65 stories), who won eight Gold Medal at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The rest of the top 10 list was dominated by celebrities in the entertainment field. Actor Heath Ledger, who died at age 28 in January, was No. 3 at 71 stories. Media mogul and TV talk host Oprah Winfrey came in at eighth place at 47 stories, followed closely by the tabloids’ favorite pop star, Britney Spears (45 stories.) And in a nod to British Royalty, Prince Henry of Wales (commonly known as Prince Harry)—who made news serving in Afghanistan—was No. 10 on the list at 40 stories.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ