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Rock 'em, Sock 'em Republicans Fuel Big Week of Campaign Coverage

Overall, campaign coverage filled 19% of the newshole as measured by PEJ’s News Coverage Index for the week of Nov. 25-30. The story led in all five media sectors and generated the most attention (29%) on cable. The week proved to be the second-biggest one for election coverage in 2007, trailing only the period of Nov. 11-16, when the subject accounted for 21% of the newshole.

The Mideast gathering at Annapolis, the Bush administration’s most ambitious effort at Arab-Israeli peacemaking, was the second-biggest story of the week, at 8%. That was followed by the Nov. 30 hostage standoff, that ended peacefully, at Hillary Clinton’s Rochester New Hampshire campaign office (5%). The fourth-biggest story was the situation in Pakistan (5%) where last week President Pervez Musharraf stepped down as military chief. And news of the U.S. economy, which last week included hints of another interest rate cut, finished fifth at 4%.

With this No. 1 showing, the 2008 campaign continued a run of intense coverage. The subject has registered as the No. 1 story in four of the five weeks from Oct. 28 through Nov. 30. It is noteworthy that the five-week interval began with an Oct. 30 Democratic debate at which Hillary Clinton’s challengers attacked her vigorously, inspiring more pugilistic metaphors in the media. (NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, for example, ventured that Clinton was still “acting tough” after “getting punched around” in that debate.)

Even before the Republican debate in Florida last week, Giuliani and Romney—the former is leading national polls while the latter is doing better in Iowa and New Hampshire—had made news by criticizing each other in increasingly aggressive terms.

With the caption reading “Gloves Off,” NBC’s Nov. 26 nightly newscast reported that the two candidates had “hit each other and hit each other hard” in recent days. After reporting that Giuliani had attacked former Massachusetts Governor Romney on the issue of crime in that state, NBC correspondent David Gregory added that “Romney, eager to exchange blows with Giuliani, fired back.”

That dynamic carried over into the Nov. 28 debate, where the tone was set by a Romney-Giuliani exchange over immigration. Romney accused Giuliani of running a “sanctuary city” for illegal immigrants when he was mayor of New York. Giuliani responded by accusing Romney of operating a “sanctuary mansion”—a reference to the illegal workers who helped out around the former Massachusetts Governor’s home. The exchange proved irresistible for reporters.

The headline on the front-page New York Times Nov. 29 debate analysis featured even more boxing lingo: “G.O.P. Rivals Exchange Jabs in Testy Debate.”

One other message that came out of that debate—the continuing rise of former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee—was prominent in both the Times story and a Los Angeles Times story a day later.

“The debate also reflected a news reality in the Republican race,” the New York Times said. “Mike Huckabee…played a central role, demonstrating how he had come from behind to show strength in several recent polls of Iowa caucus goers.”

“On Thursday, Huckabee savored strong reviews for his performance the previous night in the CNN-YouTube debate at which the former Arkansas Governor delivered one-liners, played up his humble roots and proposed abolishing the IRS in favor of a national sales tax,” added the Los Angeles Time account.

Rock 'em, Sock 'em Republicans Fuel Big Week of Campaign Coverage