January 8, 2009

Scandals Put Governors in the News in 2008

Sarah Palin
Rod Blagojevich
Eliot Spitzer
Bill Richardson
David Paterson

2nd – Blagojevich’s rank as newsmaking governor

It’s no surprise that Sarah Palin topped the list of newsmaking governors in 2008 by a wide margin. The Alaska chief executive— transformed from a virtual unknown into a household word after her surprise selection as John McCain’s running mate—was the lead newsmaker in 921 stories in 2008. A lead newsmaker is featured in at least 50% of a story, and in Palin’s case, that attention came after she joined the GOP ticket on Aug. 29.

The No. 2 newsmaker among governors had his turn in the media limelight in an even more compressed time frame. Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich was arrested Dec. 9 amid “pay for play” allegations that included charges he tried to sell Barack Obama’s open Senate seat. Thanks to the intense coverage of Blago-gate, the governor was a lead newsmaker in 279 stories in 2008. Another scandal-plagued governor, New York’s Eliot Spitzer was a lead newsmaker in 184 stories, generating headlines and resigning his office after his liaisons with a prostitute became public. The man who replaced him, David Paterson, was the No. 5 newsmaking governor (51 stories.)

The other governor on the top-five list, New Mexico’s Bill Richardson, made headlines last year for his brief run for the Democratic presidential nomination and his selection by Obama to be Commerce Secretary. The 93 stories in which he was a lead newsmaker in 2008 did not include coverage of Richardson’s Jan. 4 2009 decision to withdraw that nomination amid word of a federal “pay-for-play” investigation in New Mexico. But that story may keep Richardson in the news again this year.

*The tally of lead newsmaker stories includes all of 2008 except the Dec. 22-28 Christmas week.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ