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The Killing of George Tiller Dominates the Blogosphere Debate

The killing of abortion doctor George Tiller was eclipsed by Barack Obama's Mideast trip and economic news in the mainstream press last week. But in the social media, the May 31 shooting that sparked an impassioned debate over a divisive issue was the week's dominant subject.

From June 1-5, the death of Tiller-a rare provider of late-term abortions who was shot while in church-generated 31% of the week's links on the Web tracking site Icerocket, according to the New Media Index by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

Much of the online commentary was intense and polarizing, reflecting the hardened ideological fault lines on abortion.  For many of those who were pro-choice, Tiller's murder was an act of terror against a man who devoted his life to helping women. Conversely, pro-lifers saw Tiller as someone responsible for the deaths of thousands of unborn fetuses.

But beyond those arguments, a more complex series of cross-currents emerged in the blogosphere commentary. While most pro-life advocates condemned the murder, some wondered if it could be morally justified. Some pro-choice bloggers speculated about the role of certain talk hosts in inciting violence. And commentators on both sides of the issue pondered the impact of the crime on the ongoing battle over abortion policy.

The second-largest story in social media last week, receiving 23% of the week's links on Icerocket's list, was the death of actor David Carradine in Thailand at the age of 72.  The next two were more serious, policy related topics: At 17% of the links was a June 2 report by the Associated Press (on the Washington Post Web site) about whether a comment from Obama signaled that it might be acceptable for Iran to develop nuclear power for peaceful use. This was followed by discussion of efforts to protect against terrorist attacks (8%), triggered by a  USA Today/Gallup  poll showing most Americans oppose the closing of Guantanamo Bay. And the No. 5 story, at 7%, was of the tragic June 1 crash of an Air France plane with 228 aboard.

PEJ's New Media Index typically utilizes data collected from two different Web tracking sites, Icerocket and Technorati. However, Technorati has been having technical problems so this week's NMI is based solely on daily figures from Icerocket.

The top stories in the mainstream press last week focused on Obama's Mideast trip and Cairo speech (20% of the week's newshole), followed by  the ailing U.S. auto industry (13%) and the ongoing economic crisis (11%). The Air France disaster was next at 10%. The Tiller shooting filled 8% of the newshole, roughly one-quarter of the attention it generated online.

The Killing of George Tiller Dominates the Blogosphere Debate