Saturday, November 03, 2007

Hard Proof that Press Coverage of Politics is Biased

The Project for Excellence in Journalism ( is featuring a new study called The Press, Politics and Public Policy. It confirms what most of us have known all along: the mainstream media hawks the Democratic agenda and pillories the GOP whenever possible.

...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%.)...

* 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%)...

* 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...

Taking all the presidential hopefuls together, the press overall has been more positive about Democratic candidates and more negative about Republicans. In the stories mainly about one of the Democratic candidates, the largest percentage was neutral (39%), but more than a third of stories (35%) were positive, while slightly more than a quarter (26%) carried a clearly negative tone.

For Republicans, the numbers were basically reversed. Again the same number as for Democrats (39%) were neutral, but more than a third (35%) were negative vs. 26% positive.

In other words, not only did the Republicans receive less coverage overall, the attention they did get tended to be more negative than that of Democrats. And in some specific media genres, the difference is particularly striking.

One other finding of this study is that the news media also appear to be preoccupied with the head-to-head contest of the first major African American candidate and the first serious female contender for a major party nomination on the Democratic side.

...There are other factors that may have tipped the press’ gaze more toward Democrats. The Republicans candidates with large war chests announced later than Democrats, and that would explain part of why Republicans received less news attention in the first five months of coverage. But it does not explain all of the difference, for even after the GOP race had begun, Democrats continued to get more exposure.

That tilt toward Democrats and elite candidates was truer of some outlets more than others. One news operation studied stands out as offering a contrast to these trends--The News Hour on PBS. It took a measurably different approach, focusing on all the candidates and offering audiences a broad look at their agendas for the country.

As for the more critical tone for Republicans, there are various possible explanations. The strategic context of the Republican candidacies did not always cast them in a positive light. On the plus side, Romney’s fundraising, like Obama’s, exceeded predications. The result was relatively positive coverage even though his national polling was in the single digits... But the failure of John McCain’s campaign to gain traction led to negative coverage for his candidacy.

A good deal of the negative coverage of other Republican candidates may well have resulted from press skepticism about their chances for the nomination... But if, in the early stages of the race, the 2008 presidential campaign represents a possible shift away from the Republican party of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush and a generational struggle in both parties, neither of these more idea-oriented themes are heavily evident in the early press coverage. If American politics is changing, the style and approach of the American press does not appear to be changing with it. THE INVISIBLE PRIMARY—INVISIBLE NO LONGER

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