October 3, 2008

The Palin Phenomenon

Number of Stories
Sarah Palin 500
John McCain 500
Barack Obama 464
George Bush 108
Lehman Brothers 48
AIG 42
Joe Biden 42

#1—Sarah Palin’s rank among top newsmakers in the past month

As soon as she was selected to be on the GOP ticket on Aug. 29, Sarah Palin became a lightning rod for coverage of everything from her family life to her public record to her potential impact on the presidential race. Remarkably, in the first two weeks after that announcement, Palin generated more coverage than the man atop the ticket, Republican presidential candidate John McCain.

In the past few weeks, as the economic crisis has dominated the campaign narrative, Palin’s coverage has diminished significantly. (It is likely that it will rise again this week, given the vice-presidential debate.) But even with that decline, the Palin media phenomenon has been remarkable. During her first month in the public spotlight—Aug. 29 to Sept. 28—she was tied with McCain as the No. 1 newsmaker overall. In that period, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index, there were 500 stories in which at least 50% of the focus was on Palin. (That month-long wave of media attention was enough to make Palin the fifth biggest newsmaker for the entire 12 months between Sept. 28, 2007 and Sept. 28, 2008).

Barack Obama was next, registering as the lead newsmaker in 464 stories in the past month. President George Bush (108 stories) followed. Lehman Brothers, the failed investment firm, (48 stories) and AIG, the big insurance company bailed out by the federal government (42 stories) came next. In sixth place was Joe Biden, who was a lead newsmaker in 42 stories, less than one-tenth of the Palin total.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ