PEJ News Coverage Index: Jan. 26 - Feb. 1, 2009, The Economic Crisis Returns with a Vengeance

Feb 04, 2009

In a sign of how quickly the media narrative has shifted from pomp and circumstance to layoffs and bankruptcy, the grim U.S. economy was the overwhelmingly dominant story one week after Barack Obama’s festive inauguration.

The financial crisis filled 45% of the coverage studied from Jan 26-Feb. 1, as measured by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. A week earlier, it was Obama’s move into the White House that consumed most of the media’s attention, also accounting for 45% of the newshole, or the time on TV and radio and space in print and online.

The economic coverage, which focused on the President’s efforts to pass an $800 billion stimulus package, pushed other news to the sidelines. The next-biggest story, a distant No. 2 at 8% of the newshole, was the Blago-gate scandal—marked by the impeachment of Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich and his somewhat bizarre TV interview tour. The only other subject to generate a moderate amount of attention was the logistics of the new Administration, where the headlines included two Cabinet nominees—Tim Geithner at Treasury at Tom Daschle at Health and Human Services—hampered by tax problems.

Much has been made in the coverage of the historic nature of Obama’s victory. But what may be almost as unprecedented is the urgency with which he has acted on the economic crisis and the press corps’ equally swift pivot from celebrating to legislating. By the end of the week, the media were questioning the efficacy of Obama’s stimulus package, his political clout, and his pledge of bi-partisanship.

For all the talk of a media love affair with Obama, the frantic rush of events and the changing tone of the narrative suggest that the new President’s so-called honeymoon may set modern records for brevity.

Read the full report The Economic Crisis Returns with a Vengeance on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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