December 21, 2010

A New Year of the Women?

Number of Stories
Sarah Palin 329
Elena Kagan 245
Hillary Clinton 212
Christine ODonnell 169
Nancy Pelosi 135
Michelle Obama 112
Shirley Sherrod 99
Meg Whitman 92
Sharron Angle 90
Lisa Murkowski 80

3:2 – The ratio of stories featuring Sarah Palin versus Hillary Clinton in 2010

A woman was nominated to the Supreme Court. Another is Secretary of State. A third is the Speaker of the House of Representatives. Another is the most famous member of the Tea Party movement. In 2010, women played a significant role in the news.

Who were the top female newsmakers of the year? At the head of the list is former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin. Though she no longer holds any official political office, Palin made more news than all her rivals by a long distance, according to data from the News Coverage Index produced by Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. Palin was the lead newsmaker in a third more stories than her next closest competitor, Supreme Court nominee and eventual justice Elena Kagan. And she was featured in 55% more stories than the Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton. (To be considered a lead newsmaker, someone must be featured in at least 50% of a story.)

Palin’s fame was fueled by various tea party speeches she delivered—including one at the February Tea Party Convention in which she had notes written on her hand—as well as campaigning with her former running mate, John McCain, her endorsement of various candidates in the midterm elections, speculation about her presidential aspirations, her new reality show and book tour, and her daughter’s stint on “Dancing With The Stars.” In all, PEJ’s research found 329 stories that revolved primarily around Palin.

By contrast, there were 245 stories focused on Justice Kagan, a number that is usually enlarged when there is a nomination process that examines someone’s background and personality.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton was the focus of 212 stories, many of these relating to negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians as well as tense relationships with Iran and North Korea.

The No. 4 woman newsmaker was a gaffe-prone GOP congressional candidate from Delaware, Christine O’Donnell. Her views on science, morality and possible involvement with witchcraft, made her a newsmaker in 169 stories this year, ahead of the Speaker of the House and a variety of women candidates who actually won.

Three other GOP hopefuls made the top-ten list, as well, two of them who came out on the losing ends of their campaigns. Meg Whitman lost her gubernatorial bid to Jerry Brown in California (92 stories). Sharon Angle lost a close senate race to Harry Reid in Nevada (90 stories). And Lisa Murkowski won a write-in campaign to challengers Joe Miller (R) and Scott McAdams (D). She was a newsmaker in 80 stories.

Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi was the No. 5 newsmaker in 2010 with 135 stories. Attention focused on her involvement with health care debate as well as the 2010 elections and her decision to run for minority leader of the House following the democratic losses in the election.

First Lady Michelle Obama (No. 6 with 112 stories) made the list for her campaign to end childhood obesity. And Shirley Sherrod, a mid-level bureaucrat in the Department of Agriculture, jumped to the media spotlight following her firing after the Obama Administration precipitously reacted to an edited video clip that misrepresented her views on race.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ