On the same night that Barack Obama made history by clinching his party's nomination and John McCain kicked off the general election with a prime-time policy address, it was the vanquished Democrat who may have posed the most relevant question.
In a spirited non-concession speech at Manhattan's Baruch College, Hillary Clinton gave public voice to the issue that resonated throughout the media for much of the week. “What does Hillary want?”
The answer is, she won't say yet.
In the final week of the 2008 Democratic primary campaign, Obama was the top newsmaker. In all he appeared as a dominant or significant factor in 77% of the campaign stories, according to PEJ's Campaign Coverage Index for June 2-8. That was his highest single-week total for the year. Clinton trailed him in the battle for exposure, a major figure in 60% of stories. (An analysis of primary-season coverage from Jan. 6 through June 8 reveals that on an average week, Obama registered in 57% of the coverage compared to 50% for Clinton. McCain trailed badly at 27%.)
But sometimes numbers don't tell the full story—and last week was a case in point. Despite Obama's edge in quantity of coverage, Clinton was clearly the driving force in a media narrative that focused largely on three questions. Would she fight on to the convention? Would she unconditionally support Obama? Would she seek the vice-presidential slot?
A look at the themes in last week's coverage helps tell the story. The subjects of Clinton as a possible vice-presidential nominee filled 16% of all last week's campaign stories studied; the decision to suspend her campaign filled another 9%; and calls for her to withdraw made up another 4%; Thus the themes around “what does Hillary want” alone accounted for 29% of all last week's campaign coverage studied. The theme of Obama, the first African-American to become a major party nominee for President, emerging as a historic candidate, by contrast, accounted for 7%.
Read the full report Clinton Drives the Media Narrative the Week Obama Wins on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.