Diana: The Story That Ate September

In July, the Media Research Center noted how compelling details of the Senate fundraising hearings were buried by the media frenzy over the murder of designer Gianni Versace, with a Versace-to-hearings ratio of 7 to 1 on the network morning shows.

At the end of August, Britain's Princess Diana died in a Paris car crash. While the death of the most photographed woman in the world is news, it is certainly not as important as a fundraising imbroglio implicating President Clinton and Vice President Gore, the two most powerful men in the world.

Or is it? MRC analysts examined fundraising scandal stories in September on the Big Three morning shows and evening shows, plus CNN's The World Today, and found:

The networks broadcast 686 stories on Diana between August 31 and the end of September compared to just 113 stories about the fundraising scandal. That's a ratio of more than 6 to 1.

Isolating the morning shows, they collectively aired 407 stories on Diana's death, while devoting just 38 to the scandal. That's an astonishing ratio of 10 to 1.

The evening shows broadcast a total of 50 full stories of scandal coverage with 25 anchor briefs. The Big Three morning shows aired a total of 21 full stories and 17 anchor briefs on the scandal.

Like July and August, the morning shows did not have a single member of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee on to discuss the hearings in September.

Like most other months this year, most networks skipped fundraising stories on a majority of their shows. In September's 30 days, with the Thompson hearings in a dramatic stage, the morning shows were all guilty (CBS 28 days with no story, NBC 24, ABC 22). In the evening, CBS, ABC (both 20 nights off) and NBC (19) took more than half the month off, while only CNN (12) didn't.

As with the Versace story, NBC's Today broadcast the most Diana segments with 153, versus 18 segments on fundraising. On ABC's Good Morning America, the Diana-to-fundraising ratio was 145 to 17. Keeping with its sorry tradition CBS's This Morning broadcast just two anchor briefs and one full story, and that story was about Justice Department inquiries, not the Thompson hearings. That's three reports compared to 109 on Diana's death.

CNN's The World Today showed 92 segments on Princess Diana's death while airing 34 segments on fundraising in September. CNN offered a segment on the Thompson hearings almost every day they were in session in September. Though The World Today had about twice the stories as the others, the show is twice as long.

In the evening, NBC aired the second most stories, devoting 15 segments to the fundraising story, compared to 66 on Diana. CBS broadcast 67 Diana segments, but just 14 about the fundraising scandal. ABC showed the least Diana segments (46) but only aired 12 stories on fundraising, creating the greatest evening show discrepancy between Diana news and fundraising news at a ratio of almost 4 to 1.

In September, Buddhist nuns admitted shredding documents, the Democratic chairman suffered amnesia, the National Security Adviser admitted White House security screening was gone, and the Attorney General announced probes into the President and Vice President. But stories that touch the heart crowded out stories that engage the brain. - Steve Kaminski and Tim Graham