Health care reform, an issue that has long simmered on the media back burner, finally exploded into the headlines last week, accounting for one-quarter of the overall coverage. Yet late in the week, the health care debate took a back seat to the arrest of a black professor that exposed the “third rail” of American society—race.
Together, the two stories accounted for nearly 40% of the coverage from July 20-26. And in both cases, Barack Obama played a key role.
The debate over health care legislation filled 25% of the newshole last week and was the top story in four of the five media sectors, according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism. That marked the most weekly attention to that subject since PEJ began the News Coverage Index in 2007, more than doubling the previous high water mark (11%), which occurred the week of July 13-19, 2009.
Indeed, coverage of the health care issue has traditionally ranged from sparse to non-existent. In 2007 and 2008, it accounted for less than 1% of the overall newshole. But the subject has generated more media scrutiny in recent weeks as it moved squarely into the political arena. Last week, as Obama convened a press conference and his timetable for legislation seemed to be slipping, coverage spiked dramatically—evidence of the media's proclivity to pay more attention when complex issues are framed by a heated Washington debate.
Read the full report From Health Care to “Skip” Gates, Obama Makes Big News on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.