PEJ News Coverage Index: Nov. 2 - 8, 2009, The Army Base Massacre Dominates the Week

  • November 10, 2009

The November 5 assault at the Fort Hood Army post—and questions about the suspected shooter's background and motives—commanded the media agenda last week, quickly eclipsing other major stories in the news.

For the full week of November 2-8, the attack that killed 13 and left dozens more wounded, allegedly carried out by Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, accounted for 15% of the newshole, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. But in the three days from November 5-8, the saga accounted for more than one-third (34%) of the coverage monitored in PEJ's News Coverage Index.

Attention to the rampage marked the first time in seven weeks that a subject other than health care, the economy or Afghanistan registered as the No. 1 story in the news. And it became the first breaking news event—as opposed to an ongoing subject—to lead the coverage since the death of Senator Edward Kennedy filled 27% of the newshole from August 24-30.

Given the chaos and carnage of the Fort Hood killings, and the fact that they occurred on a military facility, much of the early coverage was devoted to piecing together the sequence of events and reporting on the victims. But almost immediately, another major narrative began to emerge—the question of whether the accused killer, as Fox News' Bill O'Reilly put it, was “a Muslim terrorist or just a guy who flipped out?”

By week's end, as investigators and the media began digging more deeply into Hasan's history, there were no definitive answers. But that didn't keep some of the ideological talk hosts from staking out early positions on an issue with the power to polarize and stir passions.

The second-biggest story, at 9% of the newshole was the economic crisis, with coverage fueled by news that the unemployment rate had jumped to 10.2%, the highest level of joblessness since 1983.

Read the full report The Army Base Massacre Dominates the Week on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.