April 10, 2009

Most Newsworthy Moments of the Financial Meltdown

Economic component
AIG Bonuses 3/16-22/2009 30
Federal Bailout 9/22-28/2008 29
Govt Stimulus 2/9-15/2009 28
Financial Inst. Collapse 9/15-21/2008 25
Auto Industry 12/8-14/2008 18

No. 1 – Rank of the AIG bonus furor among top weekly economy themes

The economic crisis that exploded last September has become the overwhelmingly dominant story in the U.S. media. On any given week, the narrative can shift from the housing market to the financial sector or from the troubled automobile industry to the stimulus battle in Washington. In the seven months since the meltdown, four very different components of the crisis have accounted for at least one-quarter of the weekly newshole as measured by PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

The biggest of them was the outburst of public outrage that followed the news that insurance giant AIG, a recipient of about $180 billion in bailout funds, was giving $165 million in bonuses to top executives. That narrative filled 30% of the newshole the week of Mar. 16-22, 2009. Ranking just behind the AIG episode in highest weekly coverage was the first part of the financial sector bailout when Congress debated the Bush administration’s request for a $700 billion package.  That event accounted for 29% of the newshole the week of Sept. 22-28, 2008.   

The third-biggest element of the meltdown registered at 28% of the newshole the week of Feb. 9-15, when Congress passed, with almost no Republican support, President Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package. Next came coverage of the failing financial institutions—including Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG— which accounted for 25% of the newshole the week of Sept. 15-21, 2008.

Rounding out the top-five list was the media focus on the struggling auto industry the week of Dec. 8-14, 2008 when Congress voted against a request for a federal bailout for Detroit.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ