December 10, 2008

Embattled Lieberman Is Hill's Top Newsmaker

Joe Lieberman 12
Ted Stevens 10
Saxby Chambliss 7
Al Franken 6
Sarah Palin 4
Mark Begich 3

12%—Percentage of congressional stories focused on Joe Lieberman since Election Day

The list of post-election Congressional newsmakers is topped by a man at the center of some recent Capitol Hill drama—Joe Lieberman, the Democrat turned Independent turned John McCain supporter. After Barack Obama won the election, Senate Democrats, angry about the Connecticut Senator’s support for McCain, debated whether he should keep the chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Ultimately, after Obama signaled a conciliatory stance toward Lieberman, he was allowed to stay, but the debate thrust him into the media spotlight. According to PEJ’S News Coverage Index, from Nov. 5–Dec. 7, 2008, Lieberman was the lead newsmaker (at least 50% of a story was about him) in 12% of the stories about Congress.

With less than 1 million people, Alaska may be one of the smallest states population-wise. But it was home to three of the top newsmakers. Attention to Alaska Republican Ted Stevens’ very close race—which could have made him the first convicted felon to win a Senate seat—made him the No. 2 newsmaker, at 10% of the Congressional stories. (That does not include coverage of his corruption case). The man who defeated Stevens by a few thousand votes, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, was a lead newsmaker in 3% of the Congressional stories. The most visible Alaska politician works in the State House, not in Washington. But that didn’t keep Sarah Palin from registering in 4% of Congress-related stories based largely on two storylines— speculation that she might succeed Stevens’ in the Senate and her stumping in the hotly contested Georgia Senate race.

The winner of that race—Republican incumbent Saxby Chambliss, who prevailed in a run-off and denied the Democrats a 60-seat majority—was the third-biggest Congressional newsmaker at 7%. And one of the competitors in the still unresolved Minnesota Senate race, Democrat Al Franken, was also among the top headline generators at 6%. A well-known figure, the former Saturday Night Live cast member was a lead newsmaker in three times as many stories as his competitor, incumbent Senator Norm Coleman who has maintained a razor-thin edge through the recount.


Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ