The downfall of talk show host Don Imus for racist and misogynistic comments was the second most-heavily covered story of the year to date, according to the PEJ’s weekly study of the agenda of the American news media.
From his attempted redemption on the Rev. Al Sharpton’s radio show to the fallout over his firing by NBC and CBS, the controversy over Imus’s insults about the Rutgers’s women’s basketball team filled more than a quarter of the newshole (26%) of PEJ’s News Coverage Index for the week of April 8 to 13.
Only the debate over American war policy with Iraq when the President announced his “surge” plan the week of January 7 to 12 got more media coverage this year. It filled 34% of the newshole in our index that week.
Nothing else this year has come close to capturing the media’s attention at this level. The next biggest story of the year, the controversy over the firing of U.S. Attorneys, filled 18% of the newshole the week of March 18 to 23. The takeover by Democrats of Congress reached 15% the first week of the year. Several stories, including the presidential campaign and the State of the Union speech, have gone as high as 13% in a given week. The Anna Nicole Smith story has never exceeded 10% of the total newshole.
Last week, April 8 through 13, the second-biggest story was events on the ground in Iraq (10% of the newshole). That was followed by the Duke University lacrosse scandal (7%), the Iraq war policy debate (5%), and discussion of U.S. immigration policy (5%).
The Imus story cut across every media sector, though it was particularly powerful on cable news. By week’s end, the story had taken up nearly half of all the time on the three cable news channels (48%). That exceeds any story on cable all year for a full week. As a source of comparison, the Anna Nicole Smith story, another cable favorite, made up 50% of cable time the two days after she died, but never exceeded 26% for a full week. The Imus story filled 39% of the radio newshole last week, and 25% of the time on network evening and morning news programs.
Read the full article and view charts on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.