December 2, 2009

Palin in the Public Eye

Lead Newsmaker
Jan 18
Feb 6
March 9
April 12
May 9
June 53
July 125
Aug 6
Sept 14
Oct 12
Nov* 1 – 22 98

No. 5 – Sarah Palin’s rank among top newsmakers in 2009

With the intense focus on her recent memoir, former Alaska Governor and GOP vice-presidential hopeful Sarah Palin was a ubiquitous figure in the news. The week of the book release, November 16-22, she was the No. 2 newsmaker, appearing as a lead newsmaker in 78 stories examined in PEJ’s News Coverage Index. (To be designated a lead newsmaker, a figure must appear in at least 50% of a story.) Only President Obama, a lead newsmaker in 122 stories, generated more coverage that week.

The book publicity help cement Palin’s status as a magnet for media coverage. Indeed, so far in 2009 she has been the year’s No. 5 newsmaker (362 stories), trailing only Obama (6775), the late pop legend Michael Jackson (721); the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor (552); and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (476).

An examination of Palin-related news this year reveals that she has never completely faded from the headlines. But much of her coverage has been fueled primarily by three major events, including the media-saturated book tour that helped make her a lead newsmaker in 98 stories in the first three weeks of November.

Palin also generated major attention with her July 3 announcement that she was resigning as Alaska’s governor effective July 26—18 months before the completion of her first term. Much of the coverage of that story reflected surprise at the news mixed in with considerable speculation about her reasons for stepping down. That month, Palin was a lead newsmaker in 125 stories.  

Another spike in coverage occurred in June, when Palin engaged in a battle with late night host David Letterman after he joked that one of her daughters was impregnated by New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez on his June 8 show. Palin called his comments “sexually perverted,” saying they encouraged “acceptance of abuse of younger women.” The fallout over the saga, which ended shortly after Letterman apologized on June 15, made Palin a lead newsmaker in 53 stories that month.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ