FAIR Examines Political Coverage

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting: Network Newscasts Focus on Races More than Issues, High-Profile Candidates More Visible than Long-Shots
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The network newscasts cover the horse races of politics much more than the issues, and the highest-profile candidates got a lot more mentions than the long-shots.

That was essentially the conclusion of a new study that found that the vast majority of presidential primary stories on the broadcast-network nightly newscasts were about strategy and only a fraction dealt mainly with issues.

That content analysis was conducted by media critic Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting.

In the analysis, FAIR said that of the 385 stories about the primaries that aired between Dec. 26 and Super Duper Tuesday (Feb. 5), the vast majority -- 255 -- were primarily about analysis and strategy, with only 19 stories, or about 5%, primarily about issues.

In addition, the analysis concluded that even when issues like, say, the Iraq War, were mentioned, it was only in passing and usually related to how the candidates were polling on the issue.

Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.), the first African-American front-runner for a major party's nomination, got the most mentions over that period with a total of 1,204.

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), the first woman in or near a front-running position for a nomination, was second with 992, followed by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at 931 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney with 904. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who had a few weeks of high-profile coverage, was next at 503.

The candidate with the least mentions was Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) with seven, the majority of which (four) dealt with his decision to get out of the race, which led FAIR to comment, "Why report on someone dropping out if you never acknowledged that he was running in the first place?"

While the exposure numbers would appear to square with the candidates' newsworthiness relative to their respective chances for the nomination as the primary season unfolded, FAIR saw it differently.

"As has been noted many times before, the early stage in the campaign is no time to limit the public’s exposure to any particular candidates," FAIR said, "no matter what the polls -- often driven by exposure in the first place -- are saying. This should be a time when the American people are introduced to all of the candidates and, more important, all of their ideas about how to run the country."

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