03/22/2007 - The controversy over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys is not attracting strong public interest in spite of intense media coverage of the story. In fact, the story evokes a typical response from the public when compared with news interest in past Washington scandals. Amid calls for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' resignation, the news media's coverage of the story outstripped public interest. Most Americans remained focused on the Iraq war and the problems facing returning soldiers.
Overall, 19% of the public paid very close attention to news about the fired U.S. attorneys and 8% said this was the single news story they followed more closely than any other. The news media devoted 16% of its coverage overall to the firings - an eight-fold increase over the week of March 5 - making it the most covered story of the week. Public interest increased as well though at a lower rate. Democrats followed the U.S. attorneys story more closely than Republicans (23% vs. 15%, respectively, followed it very closely).This story did generate more public interest than the recent verdict in the Scooter Libby trial - one of last week's most covered news stories. Only 13% followed that story very closely.
Looking at past Washington scandals involving senior government officials, the firing of eight U.S. attorneys generated an average amount of interest from the public. It is on par with Whitewater, the HUD scandal of the late 1980s, Trent Lott's resignation as Senate Majority Leader, the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal, Tom Delay's indictment for campaign finance violations and the savings and loan scandal of the early 1990s.
Read the full report Attorney Firings Stir Limited Public Interest, News Interest Index for the Week of March 12 on the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Web site.