PEJ News Coverage Index: Aug. 3 - 9, 2009, Town Hall Showdowns Fuel Health Care Coverage

Aug 11, 2009

With much of the focus on angry town hall meetings, the health care debate maintained its spot atop the news agenda for the third consecutive week. But coverage of the subject has gradually decreased since late July and last week, the economy and North Korea’s release of two U.S. journalists vied for attention with the increasingly politicized health fight.

The skirmishing over health care accounted for 16% of the news hole from August 3-9, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That is down from 19% the previous week and from 25% the week from July 20-26.

One key indicator of how the story was covered is who was covering it. From August 3-9 health care accounted for only 5% of the newshole in newspapers, online and network news. But it dominated cable news (37%) and radio (33%), the two sectors that include the debate-oriented programming that hammers away on polarizing issues. Indeed a PEJ examination of the 13 cable and radio talk shows in our News Coverage Index found that 59% of their airtime last week was devoted to the health care debate. And last week, the town hall showdowns—angry outbursts driven largely by opponents of Democratic health care legislation—generated plenty of partisan finger pointing.

The No. 2 story, for the sixth week in a row, was the U.S. economic crisis, at 15% of the newshole. Another subject related to the economy, the U.S. auto industry, was the fourth-biggest story (5%), with the big news the continued funding of the popular, if contentious, “cash for clunkers” program.

Read the full report Town Hall Showdowns Fuel Health Care Coverage on the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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