Bin Laden Killed: A News Coverage Record

By David Cohen 

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has been tracking mainstream media coverage with its News Coverage Index since January 2007, and a record was set during the week of May 2-8 when the death of Osama Bin Laden accounted for 69 percent of the newshole, edging the week of Aug. 25-31, 2008, when the Democratic Party nominated Barack Obama for president and Republican nominee John McCain introduced Sarah Palin as his vice presidential candidate (slightly below 69 percent).

Bin Laden coverage dominated cable TV, accounting for 90 percent of airtime, and his death was the subject of 28 percent of stories for the week, the most since the week of Jan. 19-25, 2009, following the inauguration of Obama.

To illustrate how dominant Bin Laden coverage was, the second-ranked story for the week was the U.S. economy, which finished a whopping 64 percent behind the leader, accounting for just 5 percent of the newshole.

Breaking down the coverage, the actual mission to kill Bin Laden accounted for 36 percent, followed

by: the political implications of his death, at 15 percent; Pakistan’s role and U.S.-Pakistan relations, at 10 percent; and the implications for future terrorism and national security, at 7 percent.

Trailing Bin Laden and the U.S. economy, the No. 3 story for the week was the flooding in the South and Midwest, at 3 percent of the newshole. Also at 3 percent was the U.S. presidential election, driven largely by the first Republican debate in Greenville, S.C. And education in the U.S. placed fifth with 2 percent of the newshole.