PEJ Campaign Coverage Index: September 8 - 14, 2008, Northern Exposure Still Dominates the News

  • September 16, 2008

Barack Obama may have generated more coverage, but as has been the case ever since her selection on Aug. 29, Sarah Palin still drove the media narrative last week.

Obama, the Democratic nominee for President, was a significant or dominant factor in 61% of the campaign stories from Sept. 8-14, according to the Campaign Coverage Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. But for the second week in a row, the GOP vice presidential hopeful got more coverage (53%) than the man atop the ticket, John McCain (49%). Palin's Democratic counterpart, Joe Biden, has become the virtually forgotten candidate, registering at only 5% last week.

Yet even these measures do not fully convey the Palin-centric nature of the news coverage. For all the phrases delivered on the stump, it was “lipstick on a pig,”—which some claimed was a smear against Palin—that fueled the biggest controversy of the week in the media. The buzz continued with her interview encounter with ABC anchor Charlie Gibson and culminated with a widely viewed Saturday Night Live skit featuring Tina Fey eerily resembling Palin.

Indeed, campaign storylines revolving around Palin accounted for 50% of the campaign newshole last week. She was the focal point of the four biggest media narratives—scrutiny of her public record (14% of the newshole), the ABC interview (10%), the “lipstick on a pig” flap (10%) and general reaction to her nomination (9%). In addition, the week's No. 8 storyline was her impact on women voters, at 3% of the newshole.

The total for the combined Palin storylines was similar to the previous week, when she accounted for 45% of the narrative. But there was a change in the kind of media scrutiny she faced last week. The week before, coverage of Palin's personal and family life outstripped the vetting of her record in public office (10% to 6%). Last week, her record—from her stance on the “Bridge to Nowhere” to her acceptance of traveling expenses—accounted for 14% of the campaign newshole. Coverage of her personal life accounted for 2%.

Read the full report Northern Exposure Still Dominates the News on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.