candidate whose media coverage during the Republican primary season that has
been the most negative is not Newt Gingrich or Rick Santorum or Mitt Romney.
It's President Barack Obama.
According to a just-released study by the Pew Research Center's Project for
Excellence in Journalism, the President's negative coverage has exceeded his
positive in 14 of the past 15 weeks. For Romney -- his almost certain opponent
in the general campaign -- that number was six of 15 weeks with more negative
coverage, with coverage for four of the remaining nine weeks about evenly split
between negative and positive.
The study suggests the President's negative
coverage was the result of several factors, including the criticism leveled at
him by Republican candidates as well as coverage of the "tenuous"
economy, challenges to healthcare legislation, continued unemployment, and the
recent spike in gas prices that had some second guessing his energy policy.
Those findings are according to
computer-assisted coding of more than 11,000 outlets (RSS feeds from local news
sites including TV and radio stations), plus a human content analysis of 52
news outlets (included in that 11,000 total) between Nov. 1 and April 15.
According to the study, Romney's coverage
began to turn much more positive after the win in his home state of Michigan Feb. 28, when that
coverage began portraying him as the inevitable choice, while Rick Santorum's
coverage began to shrink and turn more negative. An analysis of national cable
and broadcast TV news programs showed that the week after Michigan, references to
terms such as "delegate math" and "mathematical inevitability" had increased
So-called horserace coverage -- strategy,
momentum, polls, advertising and fundraising -- continued to far outpace policy
and public record, accounting for 64% of the coverage compared to 12% on their
personal lives, 11% on policy and only 6% on their public records.
But that is actually about twice as much coverage
of policy and public records (28%) collectively than in the 2008 presidential
campaign (11% in the Republican primaries in 2008 and 15% in the contested
Among the other findings:
Gingrich has had only one week in which his positive coverage was
"significantly" more than his negative, the week of his South Carolina primary victory Jan.
- Paul has gotten the most consistently positive
coverage, but the study says that was offset by the fact that the media
"virtually ignored him." That could be a mistake. At a Liberty Media
dinner in Washington last week, Fox News
political commentator Tucker Carlson suggested Paul could be a major factor if
his 1-2% of support is thrown to a Libertarian candidate. If that happens, he
suggested, Romney won't win.
- Coverage of President Obama has tended to focus on candidate Obama, with 63% of
the stories analyzed framing his coverage in terms of those horse race verities
of strategy and momentum.