July 14, 2011

When Verdicts Make Headlines

% of Newshole
Casey Anthony Jul 4-10 2011 17
Libby CIA Leak Mar 4-19 2007 13
Madoff Scam Mar 9-15 2009 7
Blago Scandal Aug 16-22 2010 6
Amanda Knox Nov 30-Dec 6 2009 2
Ted Stevens Oct 27-Nov 2 2008 2

#1 – Rank of the Casey Anthony acquittal among verdict stories since January, 2007

As a legal and media extravaganza, the Casey Anthony murder trial may not have quite equaled the O.J.  Simpson case. But it generated plenty of headlines last week, surprising many legal observers and media pundits and provoking a public outcry.

The fallout from the July 5 verdict that found Anthony not guilty of killing her two-year-old daughter accounted for 17% of the newshole last week. That easily made it the most covered verdict or resolution of a court case since PEJ began tracking news coverage in January 2007.

The No. 2 verdict story—13% from March 4-9, 2007—occurred when former vice presidential aide Scooter Libby was found guilty of perjury in connection with his involvement in leaking the name of covert CIA agent Valerie Plame. Some suspected the leak was retaliation by the White House for an article written by her husband, Joe Wilson, which was critical of the Iraq War.

At 7% of the newshole from March 9-15, 2009,  the next biggest story on the resolution of a case involved Bernard Madoff, who pled guilty to defrauding clients out of $65 billion dollars over 25 years—the largest Ponzi scheme in history. He was ultimately sentenced to 150 years in prison.

No. 4 was the outcome of former Illinois Governor Rod Balgojevich’s initial trail in which he was found guilty on one of 24 corruption counts against him and the jury was hung on the remaining 23, including charges that he tried to sell Barack Obama’s U.S. Senate seat. The week of August 16-22, 2010, that story accounted for 6% of the overall newshole. The prosecution quickly called for a retrial and on June 27, 2011, Blagojevich was found guilty of 17 of the 20 counts against him. (Coverage of that verdict accounted for 2% of the newshole.)

The only other murder case on the roster of top stories was the verdict in the trial of Amanda Knox, an American student studying in Italy. Knox was convicted of sexually assaulting and killing her Italian roommateand was sentenced to 26 years in prison. The case is currently under appeal. It accounted for 2% of the story the week of November 30-December 6, 2009.

Also at 2% the week of October 27-November 2, 2008 was the case involving the late Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, who was convicted of lying to officials regarding major home renovations and other gifts paid for by an oil service company. Six months later, the federal judge threw out Stevens’s conviction citing prosecutorial misconduct and initiated a criminal investigation into six of the prosecutors. 

Tricia Sartor, PEJ

Cite this publication: “When Verdicts Make Headlines.” Pew Research Center, Washington, D.C. (July 14, 2011) http://www.journalism.org/numbers/when-verdicts-make-news/, accessed on July 22, 2014.