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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 05-29-2008, 04:39 PM Thread Starter
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Study of news coverage of US presidential candidates

A First Look at Coverage of the 2008 Presidential Campaign
October 29, 2007
A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy

In the early months of the 2008 presidential campaign, the media had already winnowed the race to mostly five candidates and offered Americans relatively little information about their records or what they would do if elected, according to a comprehensive new study of the election coverage across the media.

The press also gave some candidates measurably more favorable coverage than others. Democrat Barack Obama, the junior Senator from Illinois, enjoyed by far the most positive treatment of the major candidates during the first five months of the year—followed closely by Fred Thompson, the actor who at the time was only considering running. Arizona Senator John McCain received the most negative coverage—much worse than his main GOP rivals.

Meanwhile, the tone of coverage of the two party front runners, New York Senator Hillary Clinton and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, was virtually identical, and more negative than positive, according to the study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy.

In all, 63% of the campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign. That is nearly four times the number of stories about the personal backgrounds of the candidates (17%) or the candidates’ ideas and policy proposals (15%). And just 1% of stories examined the candidates’ records or past public performance, the study found.

The press’ focus on fundraising, tactics and polling is even more evident if one looks at how stories were framed rather than the topic of the story. Just 12% of stories examined were presented in a way that explained how citizens might be affected by the election, while nearly nine-out-of-ten stories (86%) focused on matters that largely impacted only the parties and the candidates. Those numbers, incidentally, match almost exactly the campaign-centric orientation of coverage found on the eve of the primaries eight years ago.

All of these findings seem to be at sharp variance with what the public says it wants from campaign reporting. A new poll by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press conducted for this report finds that about eight-in-ten of Americans say they want more coverage of the candidates’ stances on issues, and majorities want more on the record and personal background, and backing of the candidates, more about lesser-known candidates and more about debates.[1]

Among other findings from the PEJ-Shorenstein study:

Just five candidates have been the focus of more than half of all the coverage. Hillary Clinton received the most (17% of stories), though she can thank the overwhelming and largely negative attention of conservative talk radio hosts for much of the edge in total volume. Barack Obama was next (14%), with Republicans Giuliani, McCain, and Romney measurably behind (9% and 7% and 5% respectively). As for the rest of the pack, Elizabeth Edwards, a candidate spouse, received more attention than 10 of them, and nearly as much as her husband.

Democrats generally got more coverage than Republicans, (49% of stories vs. 31%.) One reason was that major Democratic candidates began announcing their candidacies a month earlier than key Republicans, but that alone does not fully explain the discrepancy.

Overall, Democrats also have received more positive coverage than Republicans (35% of stories vs. 26%), while Republicans received more negative coverage than Democrats (35% vs. 26%). For both parties, a plurality of stories, 39%, were neutral or balanced.

Most of that difference in tone, however, can be attributed to the friendly coverage of Obama (47% positive) and the critical coverage of McCain (just 12% positive.) When those two candidates are removed from the field, the tone of coverage for the two parties is virtually identical.

There were also distinct coverage differences in different media. Newspapers were more positive than other media about Democrats and more citizen-oriented in framing stories. Talk radio was more negative about almost every candidate than any other outlet. Network television was more focused than other media on the personal backgrounds of candidates. For all sectors, however, strategy and horse race were front and center.
The findings about who got the most favorable coverage and the focus on horse race in many ways reinforce each other. Obama, the first candidate of color to be a major White House contender, performed better in polling and fundraising than expected in these early months. McCain, in contrast, was a former presumed front runner who fared far worse in the polls and in fundraising than anticipated.

Even coverage of issues and candidate background was often cast through a political lens, frequently in the form of exploring the potential vulnerabilities of key candidates. For Clinton, this strategic focus translated into more coverage of her evolving stances on the Iraq War, something that created strains with elements of her party’s more liberal base. For Giuliani it resulted in coverage of his position on abortion and his marriage history, two areas that raise questions about his chances with the conservative base of his party. For Romney it meant more coverage of his religion as a member of the Mormon Church.

The biggest problems we are facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all and thats what I intend to reverse.

~ Senator Barack H. Obama
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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 05-29-2008, 04:42 PM Thread Starter
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The Project for Excellence in Journalism is a research organization that specializes in using empirical methods to evaluate and study the performance of the press. It is non partisan, non ideological and non political.

Our goal is to help both the journalists who produce the news and the citizens who consume it develop a better understanding of what the press is delivering. The Project has put special emphasis on content analysis in the belief that quantifying what is occurring in the press, rather than merely offering criticism and analysis, is a better approach to understanding.

For its first nine years, the Project was affiliated with the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and had a twin mission of evaluating the press and helping journalists clarify their professional principles. The first task, press evaluation, was carried out through PEJ's empirical research. The second task, clarifying principles, fell to a group the Project ran, the Committee of Concerned Journalists (CCJ).

On July 1, 2006, the Project began a major new phase in its history. It formally separated from CCJ and Columbia University in order to focus on and expand its research activities. It joined the Pew Research Center in Washington, D.C, which administers seven other research projects funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts. The Project also doubled its staff and set out to significantly expand its research activities. In 2007, the number of reports it produces will expand from a few a year to dozens.

Directed by journalist Tom Rosenstiel, PEJ's broadened research agenda will include a new series of continuing content studies of the news agenda, plus tracking of key industry trends, and timely commentary and analysis of that trend data. At the same time, PEJ will also continue its existing research, including publishing the State of the News Media, an annual report on American journalism, conducting "opportunistic" content studies on press performance of key events, offering occasional analysis of press behavior and publishing the Daily Briefing, a digest of media news. PEJ's new website is designed to be an archive of that research and a place for people to conduct their own inquiries through the searchable and customizable functions built into the site.

The Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan "fact tank" that conducts public opinion polling and social science research; reports news and analyzes news coverage; and holds forums and briefings. It does not take positions on policy issues. In addition to the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the Center’s projects are: Pew Research Center for the People & the Press;; Pew Internet & American Life Project; Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life; Pew Hispanic Center; Pew Global Attitudes Project and Pew Social and Demographic Trends. The Center is a non-profit, tax-exempt corporation which operates under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code. It was established in 2004 as a subsidiary of The Pew Charitable Trusts.

The biggest problems we are facing right now have to do with George Bush trying to bring more and more power into the executive branch and not go through Congress at all and thats what I intend to reverse.

~ Senator Barack H. Obama
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 05-29-2008, 08:25 PM
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That is a very good study. We used it extensively during much of our discussions from my NYU classes this last two quarters.

One thing that stands out from that brief is that the two candidates that were the frontrunners at the time, Rudy and Hillary who got more negative than positive coverage also were two of the most polarizing candidates in the election cycle. We used their 2000 Senate race in New York and found, even as they were against each other and no other candidates to get "favorables" they tended to get more negative reports.

Also, as I have banged the drum [and this study might have helped provide the rhythm], the media coverage is too much fluff and not enough on the hard subjects. Of course in this ADD laden society where most folks don't want to talk about economics or war or immigration or climate change with any depth, the media is damned if they do and damned if they don't.

If they provide bullets and fluff like some of the networks do, people only get a 30,000 foot semi informed view. If they provide detailed information, most people glaze over and change channels to something more "entertaining".

Apparently an informed electorate is not going to happen anytime soon.


Being smart is knowing the difference, in a sticky situation between a well delivered anecdote and a well delivered antidote - bear.
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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 05-30-2008, 10:06 AM
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Wow! One could write a book just about this chart...

Is there any wonder that most people see Obambi as a God of some type...

Don't believe everything you think
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 05-30-2008, 10:13 AM
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Originally Posted by Jayhawk View Post
Wow! One could write a book just about this chart...

Is there any wonder that most people see Obambi as a God of some type...

At least you have decided to start finding the reasons to fall back on in November...........
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