There’s an old rule in marketing – stick to what sells. Lately, it appears that America’s media are doing exactly that.
Since the significant rebound in the president’s poll numbers from their October lows, along with an apparent lack of outrage by the public concerning the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal and revelations of domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency, the media seem to be downplaying reports on current events, and, instead, focusing attention on last year’s big story that was largely responsible for the decline in Bush’s favorability ratings.
In the past three days, the media have given more air time and print space to issues surrounding Hurricane Katrina, an event that occurred at the end of August 2005, than a one and a half-hour question and answer session in Kansas that the president held on Monday, and a one-hour address that the second most powerful intelligence figure in our nation gave concerning terrorist surveillance the same day.
What are some of the numbers? Well, a Google news search of “Hurricane Katrina” produced 599 results. By contrast, a similar search of the term “Bush’s Kansas Speech” only yielded 554 results. The name “Hayden” – for Gen. Michael Hayden, the deputy director of National Intelligence – also yielded 554 results.
As for the major broadcast networks, the major cable news networks other than Fox News (including their websites), and NPR, the results were even more disparate. A LexisNexis search produced 64 results of the term “Hurricane Katrina” since Monday. By contrast, “Bush and Kansas” produced 58 reports, while “Hayden” only produced 28.
A look at the key media outlets the past three days gives a broad picture of the disparity in coverage. On Tuesday, the New York Times ran a 1,280-word front-page story about Bush’s speech and Hayden’s address entitled “Administration Starts Weeklong Blitz in Defense of Eavesdropping Program.” On Wednesday, they ran an 1,139–word front-page article that also addressed both speeches entitled “Gonzales Invokes Actions of Other Presidents in Defense of U.S. Spying.” By contrast, since Sunday, the Times has published 20 articles referring to Hurricane Katrina, with seven of them just in the past two days since the president’s appearance in Kansas. These seven articles totaled 4,501 words, or roughly twice what was devoted to the president’s speech.
The Washington Post was even worse. Its Tuesday article about the Bush and Hayden speeches, “Aiming to Burst 'Bubble' Theory; President Takes Impromptu Audience Questions in Kansas,” wasn’t even on the front-page. Instead, the Post’s editors decided to stick it on page A4. The only other reference came in a Wednesday editorial entitled “Contempt for Congress,” bringing the total number of words devoted to this issue by the Post to 1,779. By contrast, the Post has run three articles and three editorials addressing Hurricane Katrina in the past three days totaling 3,117 words.
The television media has been worse. Since Monday, CNN has done a total of 47 reports that included the term “Hurricane Katrina.” By contrast, they have done 32 reports that include the words “Bush and Kansas,” with eight of them either exclusively or tangentially addressing the comments made by the president concerning the movie “Brokeback Mountain.”
Finally, on NBC, the “Nightly News” reported on the president’s speech on Monday evening, with the “Today Show” addressing it on Tuesday only to report to its viewers the question relating to the film “Brokeback Mountain.” By contrast, the “Nightly News” did a piece on Hurricane Katrina Monday and Tuesday evening, while the “Today Show” covered Katrina on Monday.
As such, when you add it all up, regardless of their fascination with NSA eavesdropping, the press in the past couple of days was much more interested in reporting on a natural disaster that occurred almost five months ago instead of fully covering explanations by the president and the second highest ranking official in the intelligence community concerning warrantless wiretaps. Imagine that.