August 6, 2008

Which Scandals Make Big News?

Percent of Newshole
Spitzer (3/10-16/08) 23
Craig (8/26-31/07) 18
Gonzales (3/18-23/07) 18
Libby (3/4-9/07) 13
Cheney (6/24-29/07) 5
Wolfowitz (5/13-18/07) 4
Stevens (7/28-8/3/08) 4

#7-Ted Steven’s rank among political scandal stories.

The indictment of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens on charges of concealing over a quarter-million dollars in gifts and services from an oil company that lobbied him for government aid was the fourth biggest story last week. Attention to this scandal consumed 4% of the newshole from July 28-August 3 and was enough to boost Stevens into seventh place on the list of most publicized political scandals (not related to the 2008 presidential campaign) since the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s News Coverage Index began measuring such stories in January 2007.

The Stevens coverage last week fell far short of the top story on the list. Former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s sex-with-prostitutes scandal generated 23% of the newshole the week of Mar. 10-16, 2008. In second-place, (at 18% the week of Aug. 26-31), was the news that Senator Larry Craig of Idaho had been arrested for making advances to an undercover officer in a Minneapolis airport restroom. Also at 18% of the newshole, the week of March 18-23, 2007, was the Justice Department scandal that began with fired U.S. attorneys and eventually contributed to the resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The fourth most covered scandal involving a public official was the case of former Dick Cheney aide Scooter Libby, which consumed 13% of the newshole the week he was found guilty on obstruction and perjury charges, (March 4-9, 2007). Scrutiny of Vice President Dick Cheney filled 5% of the newshole, the week of June 24-28, 2007, triggered by a Washington Post series examining Cheney’s power and his often secretive methods of operation. Reports that former World Bank President Paul Wolfowitz engineered a promotion and raises for his girlfriend accounted for 4% of the newshole the week of May 13-18, 2007—placing that just ahead of the Stevens case.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ