Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Why Didn't Geraldine Ferraro's Passing Generate More Media Coverage?

Liz Taylor -- two-time Oscar winner, AIDS activist and philanthropist -- died last week and received a mountain of news coverage as she was considered one of the last great American movie stars from the 1950s/1960s era. And she deserved a great deal of coverage as she earned a special spot in American popular culture history. (I contributed to the coverage here on this blog in and in a column I wrote about Liz, the working mom.)

Then on Saturday, Geraldine Ferraro also died and of the three Sunday newspapers I receive in dead tree form at my house, only one newspaper – the New York Times -- ran a page one story (though it was below-the-fold) about the first female, major party candidate for the vice presidency. The Boston Globe had a page one news blurb mentioning Ferraro’s death and telling readers to turn to page B9 for the obituary, odd given that Ferraro passed away in Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. My local newspaper, the MetroWest Daily News, didn’t even mention Ferraro on page one and ran a modest Associated Press story about her passing on page two.

By contrast, the day after Taylor died, the New York Times ran a large photo and story, above-the-fold on page one, the Boston Globe ran a photo and story below-the-fold on page one and the MetroWest Daily News ran a teaser on the top of the page, with a folder, telling readers to turn to page two for an AP story.

This just didn’t seem right to me. Sure, Taylor was a major American icon, considered a screen siren with Oscar-winning acting chops and a fascinatingly exciting life so it makes sense that she would generate media attention. As for Ferraro, whether you were a fan of her politics or not, she was a major historical figure whose selection as the 1984 Democratic vice presidential running mate “broke” the males-only glass ceiling for a national office. Certainly she deserved more coverage and attention than she received, at least with the papers I read, and on web sites I frequent (which didn't cover Ferraro as much as they did Taylor). There were days and days worth of Taylor coverage but a small fraction, it seemed, devoted to Ferraro.

According to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Taylor's death was the third biggest news story last week, the week running from March 21-27, coming in behind the Middle East uprisings and the events in Japan. Taylor garnered 13 percent of newspaper coverage and 7 percent of overall media attention (cable/network TV, radio, online, newspapers). Ferraro died on March 26, within the period the think tank examined, and she didn't make it onto the list of top stories.
Do you think Ferraro’s death was downplayed, when you compare it to Taylor’s? Is it really all about sex appeal and the allure of the Hollywood celeb culture? 

Image credit: Time via Forbes.

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