PEJ News Coverage Index: Nov. 9 - 15, 2009, Fort Hood Fallout Leads the News Again

  • November 17, 2009

Driven by increasing questions about whether the shooter's background and behavior should have triggered louder alarm bells, the November 5 shooting rampage at Fort Hood topped the news for the second consecutive week.

The continued fallout from the attack that left 13 dead accounted for 20% of the newshole from November 9-15, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. That represents a moderate increase from the previous week (15%), but those numbers are somewhat misleading since the story broke late in the week monitored in the November 2-8 News Coverage Index.

Nevertheless, the increased coverage last week suggests that the media is treating the Fort Hood case differently from a number of other violent crimes that have generated major coverage only to quickly fade from the headlines. Indeed, the single biggest crime story since the NCI began in 2007, the Virginia Tech massacre, accounted for 51% of the coverage the week it happened and plunged to 7% the following week. The fatal shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, for example, filled 11% of the newshole the week of June 8-14, and dropped to less than 1% the next week.

Among the themes fueling the second-week coverage of the Fort Hood was the issue of whether authorities should have responded more aggressively to warning signs from Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, including his repeated correspondence with a radical imam. Three related storylines—Hasan's background, the role of his religion in the attacks and the question of whether he should have been seen as a ticking time bomb—accounted for about half the Fort Hood coverage.

For the second week in a row, the Fort Hood story had the effect of moving the three topics that had recently been dominated headlines—health care, Afghanistan and the economy—further down on the news agenda.

Read the full report Fort Hood Fallout Leads the News Again on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.