February 3, 2010

Who Made Headlines on Capitol Hill?

Number of Stories
Ted Kennedy 314
Roland Burris 231
Nancy Pelosi 186
Arlen Specter 119
Harry Reid 110
Al Franken 84
John McCain 74
Joe Wilson 59
Chris Dodd 56
Max Baucus 55

#2 – Senator Roland Burris’ rank among newsmaking legislators in 2009

The August 25 death of Senator Edward Kennedy was a major story, not only because of his more than four decades in Congress and his status in a pre-eminent political dynasty. Kennedy’s passing also came as Congressional Democrats worked on health care reform legislation, an issue he referred to as the cause of his life. In 2009, there were 314 stories with Kennedy as a lead newsmaker, the most for any lawmaker on Capitol Hill last year. (To register as a lead newsmaker, a figure must appear in at least 50% of a story.)

Indeed, the unresolved battle over health care reform was a common thread for many of the legislators in the headlines. Senate Majority leader Harry Reid (No. 5 with 110 stories as lead newsmaker) was a central player in the Obama Administration’s push for new legislation. California Representative Joe Wilson, a largely unknown figure, became a household name (No. 8 with 59 stories) when he yelled “You lie!” during Barack Obama’s September 9 health care speech before Congress. Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus, a chief architect of the Senate’s health care bill, was No. 10 at 55 stories.

Some of the top newsmakers were involved in other kinds of controversies. Illinois Senator Roland Burris (No. 2 at 231 stories) came under scrutiny following allegations of pay-for play politics in his appointment to Barack Obama’s vacant senate seat by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich. Former comedian Al Franken made news (No. 6 with 84 stories) by winning a Minnesota Senate election against Norm Coleman that included an eight-month long recount. Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter (No. 4 with 119 stories) created a political stir when he switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party in April 2009. And Chris Dodd (No 9 with 56 stories) found himself in the spotlight for his involvement in a stimulus loophole that allowed for the big AIG bonuses. (Early in 2010, Dodd made more news by announcing his decision not to seek re-election.)

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (No. 3 with 186 stories) was a key figure in the health care battle, but also attracted considerable coverage when CIA memos revealed in May 2009 that she had been briefed on torture tactics in 2002. And 2008 Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who became something of a spokesman for his party on a variety of issues, finished in the No. 7 spot with 74 stories.

Tricia Sartor and Dana Page of PEJ