The U.S. Attorney Story: By the Numbers

  • Share
  • Read Later

Okay, I’m going to wade into this, too, though I know I’m going to regret it, as I do every time I play media defender on this blog (which, by the way, is not in my job description here at TIME). And before all our commenters jump on me, let me stipulate: I think the unfolding U.S. Attorneys story is a huge one, it deserves a massive commitment of journalistic resources, it is not likely to go away any time soon and I’m skeptical that Alberto Gonzales is going to survive it. I also believe that history has shown us many times that the broadest measures of public interest are a lagging indicator of the significance of a story. Finally, the blogosphere deserves huge credit for leading the way on it.

All that said, there is an interesting new study out by the Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism (insert oxymoron joke here) that seems to rebut/refute the impression by some who read this blog that the media are somehow not taking it seriously enough. Far more significant than a clip from the Chris Matthews Show are these numbers, which show the news coverage has been intense, despite the fact that the public so far seems relatively uninterested:

The people paying the most attention are journalists, according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index. The fallout over the firing of the eight U.S. attorneys was not only the biggest story last week, March 18-23, it really amounts at this point to a mega story. Filling 18% of the overall newshole, it was the second-biggest story of the year. The only one to receive more coverage was the debate over the Iraq war, which filled 34% of the newshole the week in January when President Bush announced his troop “surge” plan.

Already the level of coverage of the U.S. attorneys flap has substantially exceeded that of two other major Washington scandals—the Scooter Libby trial and conditions at Walter Reed Army Hospital.

It also was a big story across the media spectrum last week, the top subject in four of the five media sectors—newspapers, network TV, cable TV, and radio. And the subject attracted considerably more attention than other major stories last week, including the Iraq policy debate (second at 12%), the violence inside Iraq (third at 9%), the 2008 presidential race (fourth at 7%), and the Iraq war at home (fifth at 4%).