Study: Coverage of Clinton, Obama ‘Almost Identical’

Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism, Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy Examine Campaign Coverage

Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) did not get tougher press coverage than Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) when it came to the main themes about their character, history, leadership qualities and overall appeal.

In fact, it was just the opposite starting after Clinton criticized the media for being too soft on Obama.

That's according to a new study from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard's Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy.

In fact, according to the study, for the first two months of the year, starting just before the Iowa caucuses, the tone of coverage for both was "almost identical," with both getting about twice as many positives in those categories as negatives.

The tougher coverage, the study said, came at Obama's expense as "the narrative about him began to turn more skeptical and indeed became more negative than the coverage of Clinton herself."

The "trajectory" of that coverage "turned against Obama" well before the issues surrounding his pastor, the Rev. Jeremiah Wright, the study found. Instead, it began after Clinton's criticism of the media's allegedly soft Obama coverage during one of the televised debates.

Where the reporting was being done also appeared to affect positives and negatives in some cases. For example, researchers concluded that network morning-news shows offered an "exceptionally positive personal impression" of Clinton, with 84% of the assertions about the candidate positive compared with 61% for Obama, versus 68% and 69% positives for each, respectively, in the media in general.

There were also differences among the cable news networks.

For example, 69% of the assertions about Obama on Fox News Channel were positive, versus 54% for Clinton. And both far outdistanced Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), with only 45%.

On CNN, Clinton was the clear winner, with 70% positives versus 59% for Obama and 49% for McCain.

The most even-handed, at least toward the Democrats, was MSNBC, the researchers concluded, with 72% positives for Clinton and 70% for Obama (McCain got 53%).

The study was of 46 news outlets from Jan. 1-March 9 comprising a mix of news outlets, including 540 stories from network TV and 984 from cable.

For the complete methodology, click here.