December 19, 2006

The Media’s Obama Mania

Obama McCain Clinton Giuliani
Nov 20-26 540 1650 177 334
Nov 27-Dec 3 1520 1070 269 692
Dec 4-10 1380 1740 703 474
Dec 11-17 2200 1620 1010 484

Though Barack Obama hasn’t made up his mind whether to make a run for the White House in 2008, the prospect of his candidacy has excited the news media—with coverage increasing markedly last week.

A search of the terms used in that coverage on Google News found that from Dec.11 through Dec. 17, Obama was mentioned in 2,590 news stories. That compares to only 409 stories at the same time last month (Nov. 13-19).

In large part, that spike in Obama’s coverage was a response to his Dec. 10 visit to New Hampshire, the location of the nation’s first presidential primary and a mandatory stop for anyone contemplating a presidential campaign.

Serious media interest in the Obama candidacy, however, predated the trip to New Hampshire. It really seemed to pick up steam at the beginning of the month when Obama spoke about AIDS at a large evangelical church and joked about a possible presidential bid with Jay Leno.

A search over the past four weeks that includes some top potential White House hopefuls along with the word “presidential” finds that only John McCain has commanded more coverage. And with his call for more troops in Iraq, McCain has been right in the middle of the intensifying public debate over U.S. policy there.

McCain’s name appeared in 6,080 stories that included the word “presidential” with Obama close behind at 5,640 stories. That’s considerably more than the total racked up by two other oft-mentioned potential candidates, Hillary Clinton (2,159) and Rudy Giuliani (1,984).

One way to get a sense of the kind of attention Obama is attracting as he presses the flesh and ponders his political future is to look at the terms associated with him in stories. From Dec. 11-17, he has been most commonly linked with such words as “charismatic/charisma” (200 stories), “Obama mania” (147), “frenzy” (136), “rock star” (57), “phenomenon” (31) and “star power” (24). The one frequently appearing word with a likely negative connotation for Obama is “inexperience" (152).

But while "Obama mania" may be the story line today, any decision to run for president is apt to trigger a frenzied race among journalists to excavate whatever skeletons are buried in the closet of the first-term Illinois Senator. The terms associated with him at that point are likely to enter a different cycle of coverage.