Election, economy dominated '08 headlines

War in Iraq took a backseat on the Big Three newscasts

NEW YORK -- The presidential election and worsening economy pushed the war in Iraq mostly out of the headlines, especially among the Big Three evening newscasts.

The Big Three newscasts devoted a total of 3,677 minutes to the presidential campaign in 2008, according to network news analyst Andrew Tyndall of the Tyndall Report. That's up from 2,433 in 2004 and is the most coverage for a presidential campaign since at least 1988 -- a different era when the Big Three devoted 3,117 minutes of coverage during the year.

The coverage winner was President-Elect Barack Obama, who garnered 745 minutes to become the top story of 2008. His GOP challenger, John McCain and his presidential campaign, received 531 minutes of coverage. Tyndall said even McCain received more coverage for any presidential nominee since 1988.

Rounding out the top five stories of 2008 was the Hillary Rodham Clinton campaign (288 minutes), the federal bailout of the financial industry (281 minutes) and the crude oil/gasoline prices (273 minutes). There were 2,767 minutes of coverage of the recession on the three newscasts, more than the past two (1,775 minutes in 2001 and 1,872 in 1990).

Politics and the economy overwhelmed 2007's big story, which was the war in Iraq. There were 434 minutes of coverage for the war in 2008, down from 1,888 minutes in 2007 and 2,009 minutes in 2006.

Iraq combat stories were the seventh most-covered story of 2008. It was, ahead of troubles in the auto industry (239), the Summer Olympics in Beijing (236) and the nomination of Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin as the GOP vice presidential candidate (215).

Tyndall said that ABC and CBS had 21-year lows for stories involving their foreign bureaus.

"If NBC had not been shilling in Beijing for NBC Sports' Olympics, its decline would have been greater," Tyndall wrote. "And Baghdad? Forget about it."

The hardest-working network correspondent for 2008 was NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who got 355 minutes of airtime. ABC's Jake Tapper, who was 2007's winner, was in second place with 230 minutes as a campaign reporter. CBS' Dean Reynolds came in third place with 262 minutes. The top 2007 reporters were Tapper, NBC's David Gregory and Andrea Mitchell.

This year, Gregory -- who became "Meet the Press" moderator at the end of the year -- wasn't in the top 20. He also began hosting, earlier this year, an hour of political coverage on MSNBC at the same time that he was NBC's chief White House correspondent. Tyndall said that neither ABC nor NBC White House correspondents received enough airtime to rank in the top 20.
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