November 10, 2009

The Fort Hood Tragedy – When Crime Makes News

Virginia Tech Massacre Apr 15-20, 07 52
Fort Hood Shooting Nov 2-8, 09 15
OJ Simpson Robbery Sep 16-21, 07 13
Holocaust Museum Crime June 8-14, 09 11
Texas FLDS Raid Apr 14-20, 08 8

2nd – Rank of the Fort Hood Shootings among most-covered crimes since 2007

On November 5, 2009, army psychiatrist Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan allegedly opened fire at the Fort Hood Army post, killing 13 people and wounding 30 others. The story filled 15% of the newshole, and was the No. 1 subject for the week of November 2-8, 2009. That makes the Fort Hood shooting the second-biggest U.S. crime story (not including white collar crime or political scandals) for any week since PEJ began the News Coverage Index in January 2007.

The crime that generated the most coverage in a single week was the April 16, 2007 Virginia Tech massacre when Seung-Hui Cho killed 32 students and teachers before turning the gun on himself. The worst mass shooting in U.S. history, the Virginia Tech killings filled 51% of the newshole from April 15-20, 2007—making it the biggest single story of that year.

The Virginia Tech shooting, however, occurred on a Monday, playing out for longer in the press before the usual weekend break in news. The Fort Hood shooting occurred on a Thursday. In the first two days after the events occurred, when coverage is often most intense, the Virginia Tech story actually filled 56% of the newshole. Fort Hood trailed significantly behind, though it was the next biggest crime story in that initial two-day window, at 34%.

A celebrity defendant better known for another criminal case was involved in the third-biggest weekly story. The September 16, 2007 arrest of O.J. Simpson for armed robbery and kidnapping while trying to retrieve sports memorabilia at a Las Vegas hotel filled 13% of the newshole from September 16-21, 2007.  The No. 4 story was the June 10, 2009 fatal shooting of a guard at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. by James von Brunn, a reputed white supremacist and anti-Semite. That attack accounted for 11% of the newshole from June 8-14, 2009.

The fifth-biggest weekly crime story occurred during the week of April 14-20, 2008, when the fallout from the raid on a Texas polygamy compound—which included the removal of more than 400 children—accounted for 8% of the newshole.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ