January 29, 2009

The Media Bid Good-Bye to President George W. Bush

# of Stories
Jan 174
Feb 106
Mar 81
Apr 104
May 120
Jun 102
Jul 130
Aug 75
Sep 111
Oct 48
Nov 82
Dec 151

#4 – George Bush’s rank as a newsmaker in 2008

Among those powers that seep away from a lame duck President is the ability to command the headlines. In his last full year in the White House, George Bush was often overshadowed by the race to replace him, generating the most news in his first and final month in office.

In January 2008, the President was a lead newsmaker (meaning at least 50% of a story is about him) in 174 of the more than 5,000 stories studied according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. Much of this attention surrounded his Jan. 8-16 trip to Israel, where Bush pushed for a peace deal between the Jewish nation and the Palestinians. Another headline generator was his final State of the Union, on Jan. 28.

Bush’s second-biggest spike in coverage (151 stories), came 11 months later, in December. But the context was much different. Many of these stories were retrospectives that examined his tenure and legacy. The President also made some unwelcome news at a Dec. 14 press conference in Baghdad when an enraged Iraq journalist threw his shoes him.

Events out of the Mideast were responsible for another jump in Bush coverage, this time in May when he was a lead newsmaker in 120 stories. The President generated headlines with a speech to the Israeli Knesset when he warned of appeasing terrorists—a remark some interpreted as a slap at Barack Obama, who had signaled a greater willingness to talk to Iranian leaders. Bush’s third-biggest month of coverage was July (130 stories) and the catalyst was his push for a housing rescue bill and more off-shore drilling, both to offset tough economic times.

Bush reached his low point as a newsmaker in October (48 stories) when the media were consumed with the closing days of the campaign to succeed him. In that month, not only did Bush trail Obama, John McCain, Sarah Palin, convicted Alaska Senator Ted Stevens and Joe Biden as a newsmaker, he barely edged a man whose 15 minutes of campaign-related fame made him the No. 7 newsmaker that month —Joe the Plumber.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ