President Obama's decision to replace Gen. Stanley McChrystal as the top battlefield commander in Afghanistan, a move freighted with military and political implications, vaulted the war to the top of the media agenda last week for the first time in seven months.
The war accounted for 25% of the newshole studied for the week of June 21-27 according to the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The removal of McChrystal as head of NATO forces in Afghanistan – only days after intemperate comments by McChrystal and his staff appeared in Rolling Stone magazine – unleashed a torrent of coverage, much of it commentary and analysis. The last time the war attracted attention of this magnitude was the first week of December last year when Obama announced he was sending 30,000 additional troops, according to PEJ's News Coverage Index, which analyzes the content of the news from a range of media.
The story managed last week to surpass coverage of the Gulf oil spill, which fell to second place (at 23%) after six consecutive weeks as No. 1. Among the twists the disaster took last week was the temporary removal of a containment cap that had been capturing some of the leaking oil. Technicians removed the cap to test it when another piece of equipment appeared to have bumped into it and damaged a vent.
The economy, meanwhile, filled 8% of the space studied in print and online and time on television and radio, making it the third-biggest story of the week. Coverage of the economy last week was driven by the release of data that reflected a weakness in the nation's housing market and Congressional negotiators reaching agreement on a financial reform bill.
Election news was the fourth biggest story, as a series of primary elections saw Republicans nominate minorities for both the governor's mansion and a Congressional seat in South Carolina, among other results. Election news accounted for 5% of the news coverage. The World Cup tournament in South Africa came was the No. 5 story, filling 2% of the coverage studied.
Read the full report, Afghan War Tops the News, Edging Out Oil Spill on the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.