Survey finds pope's visit got a big chunk of U.S. media's attention

Patricia Zapor

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WASHINGTON -- The news media gave Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the United States in April more coverage that week than any topic except the 2008 election campaign, according to an analysis of reporting by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life and Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The analysis released May 6 found that coverage of the pope's April 15-20 visit took up 16 percent of the week's "news hole."

The presidential campaign accounted for 31 percent of coverage; the law enforcement raid on a polygamist church's compound in Texas received 8 percent of the coverage; the economy got 5 percent and the Iraq War received 3 percent.

More than half of the papal coverage focused on two main angles of the pope's visit: his meeting with victims of sexual abuse by priests and his comments on the subject in various places, which totaled 37 percent of the reporting, and his relationship with American Catholics, which accounted for 17 percent of stories, the survey showed.

Less than 20 percent of the stories accounted for what the survey described as "straightforward coverage of events."

Other aspects of the pope's visit described by the survey as "largely ignored" included Pope Benedict's visit with leaders of other religious faiths, which got about 1 percent of the news hole, and his comments about U.S. politics and his visit to the White House, which got a total of 3 percent of the coverage.

The survey found coverage of the visit peaked April 16, the day after the pope arrived. The second-most coverage came the day the pope addressed the United Nations, April 18.

The report said that in the first four months of 2008 only four stories received more coverage in any single week than Pope Benedict's visit. It said those included the presidential campaign, the troubled U.S. economy and the sex scandal surrounding former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

The journalism project analyzes four dozen news outlets for its news coverage index. The outlets include print, network TV, cable, online and radio from around the country, measured at various times of the day. The survey does not include media that specialize in religion coverage, such as Catholic News Service, Religion News Service or the PBS program "Religion and Ethics Newsweekly."

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