Numbers, Facts and Trends Shaping Your World

Angry Bloggers Ask, “Where’s the Money?”

PEJ New Media Index June 13-17, 2011

The discovery that billions of dollars intended for Iraq’s post-war reconstruction have gone missing generated a major-and largely partisan-outcry from bloggers last week.

For the week of June 13-17,  54% of the news links on blogs were about the lost Iraq money, more than four times the next biggest subject, according to the New Media Index from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The only other time that Iraq has showed up among leading blog topics since the NMI began in January 2009 was the week of September 6-10, 2010. Interestingly, it was the same basic subject, the high cost of the Iraq War that triggered bloggers’ interest then, as they linked to an article that revised upward a previous estimate that the conflict would cost $3 billion.

It seems somewhat ironic that at a time when the debate over U.S. policy is focused on the wars in Afghanistan and Libya, the story that sent bloggers to their keyboards last week was about the missing $6.6 billion in cash sent by cargo plane between March 2003 and May 2004 intended for reconstruction and other projects in Iraq. That revelation got minimal attention in the mainstream press last week, accounting for less than 1% of the newshole according to PEJ’s News Coverage Index.

The Los Angeles Times story reported that this represented the “biggest international cash airlift of all time.” The story added that federal auditors think the cash may have been stolen, leaving the Pentagon embarrassed and Congress not exactly thrilled.

Among bloggers, the emotion was outright anger as liberals seethed over the mismanagement of the money, often blaming the Bush Administration for its handling of the war in Iraq.

“Ah how the ghost of the lawbreaking, illegitimate and incompetent Bush administration continues to haunt this nation!” wrote Mike Villwock at Big Dumb Guy.

The No. 2 subject on blogs, with 13% of news links, had to do with the Los Angeles Unified School district. Bloggers linked to two different stories. One that focused on how the district voted to remove flavored milk from its menus in order to make school food healthier and combat childhood obesity. The other was an op-ed by L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa on the problems facing L.A. schools and his efforts to improve teacher quality through reform.

In third place, with 6% of links, was a story about the June 10 release of 25,000 of Sarah Palin’s emails from her tenure as Alaska governor. That subject generated commentary from both liberal and conservative bloggers who used the occasion to assail or support the politically polarizing Palin.

The fourth-biggest story (5%) was about violence breaking out in Athens, Greece in response to a package of budget cuts and tax increases.

Next came two stories focused on the Republican candidates in the 2012 presidential election (4%). One was a Los Angeles Times article about the GOP candidates making a rightward shift and the other was a 2008 New York Times op-ed written by Mitt Romney arguing that the U.S. should let Detroit go bankrupt.  Bloggers pointed out that Romney recently claimed credit for the auto industry’s turnaround, and his 2008 op-ed disagrees with his assertion.

That marks the second time that bloggers have cited that 2008 op-ed and criticized Romney for hypocrisy in recent weeks. That subject also accounted for 6% of the links the week of May 23-27.


The top two stories on Twitter last week moved away from technology and into the more natural world around us.

At No. 1, with 17% of news links, was a live feed of the lunar eclipse from Wired magazine. (After the eclipse, Wired provided a YouTube video of the event.) Twitter users were excited about the lunar eclipse and how they could view it live online from anywhere in the world-or at least anywhere with an internet connection.

“I love technology… watching the #eclipse taking place now on other side of the world. you can too!” wrote Melissa Morgenweck.

“Are we too techno needy? Why watch online when you can see it live?” asked Richard Lord.*

In second place were several stories about global warming (14%). One was about a British government advisor in charge of overhauling school syllabi in England saying that climate change should not be included in the national curriculum. The other was a letter from scientists saying that climate change is a fact and that they would more actively promote that view in the coming weeks.

The No. 3 subject was continued unrest in Bahrain (12%). That included two stories focused on Ayat a-Gormezi, a jailed poet who has become the symbol of Bahrain’s resistance.  Another was about the government of Bahrain saying it has commissioned a UK-based law firm to file a suit against The Independent for its reporting on the crackdown on protests in the country.

Many of the tweets linking to these articles came from within Bahrain and included calls to free the young poet, often with a hash tag: “Free #Ayat NOW!”

In fourth place, with 9% of links, were several articles about Facebook: its’ losing U.S. users, developing an iPad app and prepping for a mobile platform. 

And the fifth story on Twitter, with 8% of links, was an article about a double murder suspect who is alleged to have killed his girlfriend and child with a shotgun. The reason it was popular on Twitter, though, is because the Daily Mirror accidentally accompanied the article with a drawing of Superman. (Screen grab credit Tyler B. Peters). Tweeters generally declared this a #fail.

The Missing $6.6 Billion

The news of the missing billions sent to Iraq touched a nerve among liberal bloggers last week, many of whom used the occasion to launch broader criticisms of the war itself and the George W. Bush Administration that launched it.

“Yes, the US Govt mislaid 66 Thousand Million dollars, big news…BUT, it gets MUCH WORSE!” wrote Scott Bennett at The Big Wide West, “In addition to the 6.6B USD lost, there’s the estimated 823B USD for which we CAN account. That is the total cost of military operations so far in Iraq.”

“Now the Republicans want Americans to believe they are the party of fiscal responsibility. That idea is more than laughable — it is completely insane,” wrote Ted McLauglin at jobsanger

“I see the Pentagon’s finally admitting what we knew to be true ages ago,” wrote Phoenix Woman at Mercury Rising, “I wonder how much went for black ops, how much went for brides, and how much simply went into the back pockets of the young College Republican and AEI sheltered-workshop kiddie types Paul Bremer picked to run the Coalition Provisional Authority?”

“Here’s a thought: the next time you hear some Republican carrying on about waste, fraud, and abuse in the government, ask them about the missing $6 billion that the Bush administration airlifted to Baghdad without getting a receipt,” wrote Mustang Bobby at Bark Bark Woof Woof.

“…it’s hard to name a worse run operation than Dick Cheney’s Iraqi debacle,” wrote Taylor Marsh.

“This is something I’ve said from the beginning would happen,” wrote Kansas Mediocrity, “This truly is a repeat of what happened in VietNam…Whenever we send money overseas to further our interests, especially in open war, it will always end up in the hands of the people we supposedly are fighting. That’s just the way it works.”

“Glad I am not a US tax payer,” noted Alex, a Londoner, at The Financial Crimes.

At least one blogger commented on what he cited as misguided media priorities.

“Missing Iraq money may have been stolen,” wrote Red Eye, “but that’s OK, destroying Anthony Weiners marriage and career is more important to the American people who don’t have jobs and are about to lose their homes, praying they don’t get sick because they don’t have health insurance because they have no jobs.”


On YouTube, a news video that highlighted both the power and unintended consequences of social media drew the most attention last week.

The video, from the Polish television channel Polsat, featured the fallout from a 16 year-old girl’s Facebook gaffe in Hamburg, Germany.

About 1,600 Facebook users crowded the streets of her Hamburg neighborhood on June 3 after the 16-year old, Thessa, accidentally made her birthday party invitation public on the social networking site. The police in Hamburg intervened by blockading the house and clearing the “guests” from the area.

Most Viewed News & Politics Videos on YouTube For the Week of June 11-17, 2011

1. A news report about Facebook users congregating in a Hamburg neighborhood after a 16-year-old girl mistakenly invited every Facebook user to her birthday party
2. Video released by the internet group Anonymous calling for the public to protest for Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s resignation
3. Footage of a young American Jew, Lucas Koerner, in Israel, speaking out against Israel and subsequently being arrested
4. Footage of members of the Bilderberg conference confronted by protesters in St. Moritz, Switzerland
5. An Italian-language video from Italian activist, blogger, comedian, and politician Beppe Grillo


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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