As the old saying goes, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence and three times is a trend. Last week, with terrorism registering as the No. 1 story for the third time in little over a month, a clear trend emerged: The complex, visceral and increasingly politicized issue of how to combat the terror threat is now leading the mainstream news agenda, even pushing out the economy.
For the week of May 18-24, the subject filled 19% of the newshole in the News Coverage Index from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. Two major events drove the coverage: The Democratic-controlled Congress rebuking Obama by refusing to fund the closing of the Guantanamo Bay prison and dueling speeches by Obama and former Vice-President Dick Cheney that much of the media treated like the national security equivalent of Ali-Frazier.
For all of 2008, by comparison, terrorism accounted for just 1% of the newshole.
The new spike in terrorism coverage can be traced to one event, the April 16 release of memos detailing the controversial Bush administration interrogation techniques. Since then, the story of the fight against terrorism has become the kind of inside Washington melodrama that is often a catalyst for major press attention, though it may have less to do with terrorism itself. That's largely because of the political battle between Obama and Cheney, as well as a side story involving House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who challenged the credibility of the CIA. Those three have been the top three newsmakers overall for the last two weeks.
Read the full report The Debate over Gitmo and Waterboarding Drives the News on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.