A statement of support for religious freedom by President Barack Obama fueled an ideologically driven debate in the media over a proposed Islamic center in New York last week. A milestone in the Iraq war, continued economic travails and a mostly hung jury in a corruption case involving a colorful former governor also vied for attention.
The debate over the proposed Islamic center a few blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood was the biggest story for the week of August 16-22, accounting for 15% of the newshole studied by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. That was a sharp increase for a story that has simmered mainly on the blogosphere. Much of the boost could be attributed to a comment at a White House dinner by the President.
The withdrawal of the last combat brigade from Iraq made the war the No. 2 story last week, with 9% of the newshole, according to the PEJ News Coverage Index, which tracks coverage across media sectors each week.
The economy – which has dominated news coverage since it plunged in late 2008 – generated headlines again last week when a report showed a spike in people seeking unemployment insurance, raising more doubts about the durability of the recovery. This followed reports of continuing weakness in the housing sector. Taken together, the economy overall was the third- biggest story of the week, with 7% of the newshole.
The split decision in the case of impeached Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich was the No. 4 story, filling 6% of the newshole studied. After listening to weeks of testimony, federal jurors convicted Blagojevich of a single count of lying to federal agents while declaring themselves unable to agree on 23 other counts. Blagojevich, whose time out of office and pending trial has included a stint on a reality TV series, declared victory and promised to appeal the one conviction. Prosecutors said they will try him again on the charges that stymied the jury.
Read the full report, Mosque Controversy, Iraq War Dominate the News on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.