Health Care Reform Debate Is Top Story of '09 on Evening Network Newscasts

Iraq War logs most minutes of coverage for decade
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The
often vitriolic health care reform debate was the top story of 2009 on the
three evening newscasts, according to independent news analyst Andrew Tyndall's
year-in-review report. Also, the war in Afghanistan
surpassed the war in Iraq
and ABC's Jake Tapper was the correspondent who got the most airtime on his
network's evening news broadcast.

The health
care reform debate received 588 minutes on ABC's World News, The CBS Evening News and NBC's Nightly News. NBC devoted the least amount of minutes to the story
with 178 compared to 205 each for ABC and CBS.

The
second most covered story was the H1N1 outbreak, totaling 588 minutes on the
three broadcasts with 222 minutes on NBC, 180 on ABC and 178 on CBS. Coverage
in general of H1N1 came under fire with some critics claiming stories about
deaths from H1N1 were fomenting panic. The strain of influenza was misleadingly
labeled swine flu when it first surfaced leading to the senseless slaughter of
thousands of pigs in Egypt.
Probably as much criticism was also levied at the government for its handling
of the outbreak including efforts to produce and disseminate a vaccine.

Rounding
out the top five stories of the year were the escalation in the battle for Afghanistan; the recession and stimulus; and the
bankruptcy of the U.S.
auto industry.

The death
of Michael Jackson, a story the news divisions' all covered breathlessly in
numerous primetime specials, was No. 8 behind unemployment (No. 7) and the
financial industry bailout (No. 6). Jackson's
death received 237 minutes on the evening newscasts. CBS did the most with 101
minutes followed by NBC (70) and ABC (66).

Also
in 2009, the war in Afghanistan
surpassed the war in Iraq
for the first time. Afghanistan received 556 minutes of air time on World News, The CBS Evening News and Nightly News, while the war in Iraq,
which is in the drawdown phase, received a paltry 80 minutes. In 2008, Afghanistan received 126 minutes of airtime
compared to 244 for Iraq.
Broadcast evening news overage of the Iraq war peaked in 2003 with 1,602
minutes. It has fallen year-to-year, but declined precipitously between 2007
(1,157 minutes) and 2008 (244).

A new
presidential administration energized the White House beat. Consequently,
Tapper - who is a contender for George Stephanopoulos' seat at This Week - logged 370 minutes on World News in 2009.

CBS
News chief White House correspondent Chip Reid was not far behind with 341
minutes on The CBS Evening News. NBC
medical reporter Robert Bazell was the third busiest correspondent with 312
minutes on Nightly News, followed by
Chuck Todd and Tom Costello, NBC's chief White House correspondent and Washington
bureau reporter, respectively.

But
Tapper, who joined ABC News in 2003 and covered the 2004 presidential election,
was absent from the list of top-20 most-used correspondents for the decade. The
top spot on that list goes to NBC's Andrea Mitchell, who logged 2,416 minutes
on Nightly News between 2000 and the
end of 2009. She is followed by NBC medical reporter Bazell (2,328), NBC
Justice Department correspondent Peter Williams (2,280), CBS Pentagon correspondent
David Martin (2,096) and NBC's David Gregory, the network's erstwhile White House
correspondent who assumed the anchor seat at Meet the Press in December 2008.

The
top story of the decade was the Iraq
war (6,445 minutes). The Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a distant second,
receiving 2,424 minutes on the three evening newscasts followed by the war in
Afghanistan (2,372), the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 (2,339) and stock
market action (1,951).

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