October 21, 2011

Media Coverage of Occupy vs. Tea Party

Occupy Wall Street Tea Party
Oct 10-16 2011 10
Oct 3-9 2011 7
Sept 26-Oct 2 2011 2
April 13-19 2009 7
April 12-18 2010 6
July 12-18 2010 3
April 19-25 2010 3

10:7 – Ratio of the biggest week of Occupy Wall Street coverage to the top week of Tea Party coverage

The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street are two protest movements with different tactics and philosophies that have both been able to capture media attention.  But the level and timing of that attention has varied.

The Occupy Wall Street protests in New York began on September 17, 2011. Coverage first registered in PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index from September 26-October 2, when the protests filled 2% of the newshole, due in part to a widely circulated video of a police officer pepper spraying female protesters.

Attention continued to rise the following week (7% of the newshole from October 3-9) as the protests began to spread and 700 people were arrested while attempting to march across the Brooklyn Bridge. From October 10-16, coverage increased again, to 10%, as the protests became more politicized in the U.S. while expanding to a reported 900 cities around the globe. 

How does this compare to coverage of the Tea Party protests?

The first time the Tea Party demonstrations showed up in the NCI was April 13-19, 2009, the week of a major national protest marking tax day. The story accounted for 7% of the newshole then, making it the single biggest week of coverage of any Tea Party-related story.

The next biggest week of attention to the Tea Party occurred one year later, when protests marking tax day accounted for 6% of the newshole from April 12-18, 2010. The third-biggest week of coverage (3%) occurred from July 12-18, 2010, when a controversy erupted after the NAACP condemned what it called racist elements within the Tea Party. 

Tea Party coverage also accounted for 3% of the newshole from April 19-25, 2010-the week after the tax day protests-based on a variety of storylines. They include a debate about whether the Tea Party was getting too much media attention as well as remarks by former president Bill Clinton comparing current harsh anti-government rhetoric with the kind of things being said at the time of the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995.

In assessing the amounts of coverage devoted to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party, it’s worth noting that the main Tea Party protests were one-day events while the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations have gone on for more than a month. In addition, the Tea Party and its goals have become part of the nation’s political narrative and now generate ongoing coverage, not simply when there are major events or protests.

Tricia Sartor of PEJ