The Scandal Attention Cycle (Columbia Journalism Review)


In an opinion piece, Assistant Professor of Government Brendan Nyhan writes about the “scandal attention cycle” and how it came into play during the recent Internal Revenue Service scandal.

Nyhan notes that there was extensive initial media coverage of the scandal—which resulted when Congressional Republicans charged that the Internal Revenue Service had targeted certain political groups for extra scrutiny—but the coverage dropped off before all the facts were known. What eventually came to light, he writes, was “no credible evidence of White House involvement in targeting conservative groups, or even evidence that Tea Party or other conservative groups were targeted exclusively.”

When scandal erupts, says Nyhan, “there’s a surge in initial interest as reporters rush to embrace the scandal narrative, but the press quickly loses interest after the most sensational charges are not substantiated. The problem is that it often takes time for the full set of facts to come out. By that time, the story is old news and the more complex or ambiguous details that often emerge are buried or ignored.”

Read the full opinion piece, published 8/1/13 by Columbia Journalism Review.

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