Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Bloggers Return to Politics and Palin

PEJ New Media Index May 30-June 3, 2011

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It was Sarah Palin and her controversial “One Nation” bus tour that led bloggers back to politics.

For the week of May 30-June 3, 12% of the news links on blogs were about the potential candidate’s actions, making Palin the No. 1 subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. This is the first time in two months that politics led the discussion on blogs.

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The last time was in early March when the crop of potential Republican candidates for the 2012 presidential campaign was the most linked-to subject. Other hot political topics in recent weeks such as the presence of Donald Trump’s potential candidacy, the release of President Obama’s original birth certificate, and even the negotiations that nearly resulted in a federal government shutdown were not enough to turn the blogosphere’s attention to politics.

At 12%, the story was not an overwhelming portion of the conversation when compared to the portion garnered by other top stories, such as the breakup of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger three weeks ago  (41%) or the death of Elizabeth Taylor in March (33%).  But it drew bloggers in and was large enough to top all other subjects last week.

Two specific Palin-related events drew attention from bloggers. The first was the May 29 kickoff at the Rolling Thunder motorcycle rally in Washington, D.C., and the second was the June 2 visit to New Hampshire which coincided with Mitt Romney’s formal announcement that he was running for president.

The tone of the conversation regarding Palin was split, although not along traditional ideological lines. Liberal bloggers were critical and thought that her attention-getting tour was harmful for the Republican Party. Conservatives, however, were divided. Some agreed with liberals—at least in seeing Palin as an obstacle to success in finding a GOP nominee who could beat Obama in 2012. But others expressed support for her—seeing her as a popular, grassroots figure whose actions are creating needed energy in the party.

And while some conservative bloggers offered their take on whether Palin would decide to run or not, very few expressed confidence in their predictions.

Another political issue also made it among the most-linked to stories last week: the tense White House meeting between President Obama and House Republicans about the federal debt ceiling. The story was the fourth largest subject at 8%. According to the LA Times, “the two sides traded complaints, accusing each other of partisanship and posturing” rather than making progress toward an agreement.

Most of the bloggers who discussed the meeting were liberal and focused on two aspects. One was a disarming quote from Obama and the other was the potentially dangerous consequences to the economy if an agreement to raise the debt ceiling is not reached.

Palin’s Bus Tour

As Palin journeyed on her unconventional bus tour that may or may not be the beginning of a presidential campaign, many online noted how Palin did not need to follow the traditional steps most candidates take.

“Sarah Palin appears to be on a mission to do it differently,” wrote Matt Hames at People Like to Share. “Instead of using the press to get out her message, she is getting out her message with Facebook and Twitter…Love her or not, this is going to be interesting to watch.”

Some focused on the first event of her tour.

“Sarah Palin joined the ROLLING THUNDER ride today in Washington DC,” posted Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit along with pictures and video of Palin’s interactions at the rally. “It looks like she was a hit.”*

“Obama could never ever go to a rally like that and he knows it,” added NeoKong on the same web page.

“I see all this as more of Palin’s sickness that requires her to be the center of attention, even if it’s at the expense of the Veterans,” wrote an anonymous commenter on Right Speak. “This was nothing more than a photo-op. She is no more a biker than I am a writer.”

While Palin claimed her arrival in New Hampshire the same day of Mitt Romney’s official campaign kick-off was pure coincidence, bloggers universally agreed that she knew what she was doing—and that it was harmful to Romney.

“Of course Palin claims that her being in New Hampshire at the same time Mitt is making his announcement is strictly coincidental. Nonsense,” declared Right Wing Thinking. “Palin is very politically shrewd and is hyper aware of the wattage her megaphone carries…The…reason might be that Palin (like many TEA Partiers) thinks Romney is an awful candidate and sinking him now would insure a true conservative prevails in 2012.”

“If I were Mitt Romney and I had let everyone know that I was going to announce that I was running for president in a speech in New Hampshire, I would despise Sarah Palin for this,” admitted Brobrubel’s Blog. “And then the Thrilla from Wasilla brings her buscapade to the state and blows him away. Don’t think for a minute that she didn’t know what she was doing.”

As evidence, a number of bloggers pointed to the front page of the state’s largest newspaper the following day.

“Friday’s front page of the New Hampshire Union Leader…has Romney’s launch seriously overshadowed by two other events: The death of former Gov. Walter Peterson (R) — and Sarah Palin’s tour of the state. The latter was given the banner headline just above the fold, ‘Palin Hits The Seacoast,’ plus a large photo of Palin and her daughter Piper,” pointed out Eric Kleefeld at Talking Points Memo. “By comparison, Romney’s kickoff was reduced to a mere inset photo within text of the Palin piece, and a small headline, ‘Romney Announces.’”

Liberals offered unabashed criticism of Palin’s actions, though some also noted the potential advantage they felt it could bring to the Democratic Party. 

“Those of us opposed to Palin may realize an additional benefit of having her run in the primary. With a pit bull loose in the GOP primary we may see attacks on every GOP candidate who runs against Sarah Palin,” expressed Malia Litman. “Even if Palin doesn’t ultimately win the GOP nomination, the fatality of her bite may prove to be lethal to the Republican Party.”

“Don’t look now but we now know Sarah Palin’s role. She’s the wingnut ombudsman from Tea Party country putting the Republican establishment on notice,” suggested Taylor Marsh, implying that Palin will not run. “From this perch she’ll throw pot shots at presidential wannabes not keeping true to We the People…It’s from here she’ll also amass her platform for Fox News channel as conscience of the new conservatives.”

Conservatives were split on the impact of Palin’s tour.

“Her tour has not been furnishing an itinerary to the press, yet her activities are top news at outlets left-wing, main-stream, and right-of-center alike,” declared R. Mitchell at Conservative Daily News. “With that kind of publicity and drawing power comes influence. Electoral influence. The establishment candidates know that they will struggle to take primaries in states where the Tea Parties are strong and well-organized. Sarah turns those grass-roots messages into the news of the day.”

“All this activity is timed to soak up the maximum amount of media attention, exploiting the rumors of a potential Presidential run to further raise Palin’s profile,” wrote Zazu at The Constitution Club. “One thing is certain, regardless of her final decision, she is helping Romney and Obama at the expense of her own conservative base.”

Those that chose to predict what Palin would decide usually did so without much certainty.

“I still think Sarah Palin is not running,” suggested Erick Erickson at RedState. “All that said, as this bus tour rolls along, I think she is seeing if she can affect an uptick in favorability ratings. If she can, I think she might change her mind. Should Palin get in, she will be a game changer.”

Debt Ceiling Meeting

According to the Los Angeles Times, the June 1 White House meeting between Obama and House Republican leaders about the economy and the prospect of raising the country’s debt ceiling left most of the issues unresolved. Rather than debate the issue, though, many bloggers remarked on a specific quote from the session.

In responding to claims that Democrats were using demagoguery to criticize GOP plans on Medicare, Obama responded that he himself had been the subject of prejudicial attacks.

“I’m the death-panel-supporting, socialist, may-not-have-been-born-here president,” Obama reportedly said.

Supporters of Obama loved the sentiment.

“Thank you LOL,” cheered Chipsticks at The Obama Diary after reprinting the quote. “Jeez, I love this man!”

“Not bad…please show backbone,” encouraged Attaturk at Rising Hegemon.

“Go get ’em, Bam!”added D.C. Exile.

There were some bloggers who focused on the actual legislative debate—mostly liberals who questioned the Republican position of no debt ceiling raise unless accompanied by spending reductions.

“Suppose we had a Republican president and a Democratic House. And suppose Democrats decided they would block any debt ceiling increase unless the president agreed to a credible plan to slow greenhouse gas emissions. Would you object to such a demand?” asked Jonathan Chait at The New Republic. “The debt ceiling has nothing to do with any particular policy choices — it’s just a routine vote that used to be an opportunity for the minority party to embarrass the president, which Republicans are turning into a hostage opportunity.”


The Rest of the Week on Blogs

The other top stories on blogs last week included a health warning, an investigation into the local government in Los Angeles, and an effort to change sentences for some drug offenders.

The No. 2 story, at 9%, was a report by the World Health Organization that cell phones are “possibly carcinogenic” and dangerous to humans. This news was a departure for the organization which had previously said there were no risks from such exposure. Bloggers were alarmed by the news and many linked to a 2008 story that featured five tips to limit cell phone risk and exposure to radiation.

The No. 3 story, at 9%, was about a confidential memo sent to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that was accidentally released to hundreds of other people. According to the memo, written by General Manager Robert Ovrom, an FBI probe into corruption at the Los Angeles Department of Building and Safety has expanded to look into wrongdoing by city supervisors—not just rank-and-file inspectors. The investigation could have a lasting impact on the city’s government.

A proposal supported by Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to correct disparities in prison sentences between crack and powder cocaine offenders was fifth at 7%. If the plan goes into effect, it could impact more than 12,000 federal prisoners.


On the social networking site Twitter, social media strategies for small businesses and international warnings about the environment took the lead.

The top subject, with 16% of the links, dealt with how small businesses use the location-based app called foursquare. Most of the attention was to a Mashable story listing the top five mistakes committed by small businesses using the platform including giving away too much product via specials and not advertising that their company is a Foursquare merchant.

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Stories about global warming were second at 11%. Most of the focus was about a report by the International Energy Agency which stated that greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year. Consequently, the hopes of holding global warming to safe levels, according to the Agency, are all but out of reach.

Warnings by Oxfam, an international confederation of organizations fighting poverty, that food prices could rise by more than 120% in the next 20 years due in part to global warming, was the third story at 9%.

A survey of Twitter users completed by the Twitter Q&A search service inboxQ that showed that 64% of users were more likely to make a purchase from a business that answered their questions on Twitter was the fourth story, also at 9%.

And a plan by Germany to phase out all the country’s nuclear power plants by 2022 was fifth at 7%. The goal is to find renewable sources of energy to replace the power currently coming from those plants.


On YouTube, an economic crisis overseas drew the most attention last week. The top two most-viewed news videos focused on the ongoing financial problems occurring in Spain.

The No. 1 video shows violent clashes between the Catalan regional police and protesters in Barcelona’s Plaza Catalunya on May 27. Called the “indignados” (the indignant), the protestors set up camp in the center of the square to protest Spain’s financial crisis, the unemployment rate, and the austerity measures imposed by the Spanish government. As the police tried to evict the demonstrators in order to allow the city’s sanitary department to have access to the square, police are seen hitting protestors with clubs. 

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The No. 2 video is a humorous Spanish animation by Aleix Salo explaining the housing bubble market in Spain.


Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of May 28-June 3, 2011

1. Clashes between Catalan regional police and protesters in Barcelona’s Plaza Catalunya
2. A Spanish-language animated cartoon explaining the housing bubble in Spain
3. Video of President Obama suffering an embarrassing moment when he spoke over the British anthem during a dinner with Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace on May 25
4. Footage of a brave teacher trying to keep kindergarten children calm and safe during a May 27 shooting in La Estanzuela, Nuevo Leon Mexico
5. Footage filmed from a helicopter by Australia’s Channel 7 showing a series of powerful waterspouts near the New South Wales coastline



The New Media Index is a weekly report that captures the leading commentary of blogs and social media sites focused on news and compares those subjects to that of the mainstream press.

PEJ’s New Media Index is a companion to its weekly News Coverage Index. Blogs and other new media are an important part of creating today’s news information narrative and in shaping the way Americans interact with the news. The expansion of online blogs and other social media sites has allowed news-consumers and others outside the mainstream press to have more of a role in agenda setting, dissemination and interpretation. PEJ aims to find out what subjects in the national news the online sites focus on, and how that compared with the narrative in the traditional press.

A prominent Web tracking site Icerocket, which monitors millions of blogs, uses the links to articles embedded on these sites as a proxy for determining what these subjects are. Using this tracking process as a base, PEJ staff compiles the lists of links weekday each day. They capture the top five linked-to stories on each list (25 stories each week), and reads, watches or listens to these posts and conducts a content analysis of their subject matter, just as it does for the mainstream press in its weekly News Coverage Index. It follows the same coding methodology as that of the NCI. Note: When the NMI was launched in January 2009, another web-tracking site Technorati was similarly monitoring blogs and social media. PEJ originally captured both Technorati’s and Icerocket’s daily aggregation. In recent months, though, this component of Technorati’s site has been down with no indication of when it might resume. 

The priorities of the bloggers are measured in terms of percentage of links. Each time a news blog or social media Web page adds a link to its site directing its readers to a news story, it suggests that the author of the blog places at least some importance on the content of that article. The user may or may not agree with the contents of the article, but they feel it is important enough to draw the reader’s attention to it. PEJ measures the topics that are of most interest to bloggers by compiling the quantitative information on links and analyzing the results.

For the examination of the links from Twitter, PEJ staff monitors the tracking site Tweetmeme. Similar to Icerocket, Tweetmeme measures the number of times a link to a particular story or blog post is tweeted and retweeted. Then, as we do with Icerocket, PEJ captures the five most popular linked-to pages each weekday under the heading of “news” as determined by Tweetmeme’s method of categorization. And as with the other data provided in the NMI, the top stories are determined in terms of percentage of links. (One minor difference is that Tweetmeme offers the top links over the prior 24 hours while the list used on Icerocket offers the top links over the previous 48 hours.)

The Project also tracks the most popular news videos on YouTube each week.

*For the sake of authenticity, PEJ has a policy of not correcting misspellings or grammatical errors that appear in direct quotes from blog postings.

Note: PEJ’s weekly News Coverage Index includes Sunday newspapers while the New Media Index is Monday through Friday.

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