Was The Press Fair?
In a study that has been conducted by the Pew Research Project for Excellence in Journalism since the end of the party conventions, it should come as no great surprise that the coverage of John McCain has for the most part been on the negative side, and the coverage of Barack Obama, while not always overwhelmingly positive ranged more neutral to positive.
In the period from the end of the convention through the last presidential debate, the study found that McCain's negative stories led positive stories by a 3 to 1 margin. Nearly 6 out of every 10 stories were negative to very negative (57%) while only 14% were positive.
During the same period 36% of the stories were positive, 35% neutral and 29% negative.
These were some of the findings by PEJ:
Coverage of Obama began in the negative after the conventions, but the tone switched with the changing direction of the polls. The most positive stories about him were those that were most political—the ones focused on polling, the electoral map, and tactics.
For McCain, coverage began positively, but turned sharply negative with McCain’s reaction to the crisis in the financial markets. As he took increasingly bolder steps to try and reverse the direction of the polls, the coverage only worsened. Attempts to turn the dialogue away from the economy through attacks on Obama’s character did hurt Obama’s media coverage, but McCain’s was even more negative.
Coverage of Palin, in the end, was more negative than positive. In all, 39% of Palin stories carried a negative tone, while 28% were positive, and 33% were neutral. Contrary to what some suggested, little of the coverage was about Palin’s personal life (5%).
Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Biden was nearly the invisible man. His had just one large moment, the vice presidential debate, which also offered his only positive or neutral contribution. Aside from that week, the limited coverage he did receive was far more negative than Palin’s, and nearly as negative as McCain’s.
The economy was hardly a singular lens through which the media perceived the race. Though it was the No. 1 campaign topic overall, five out of the six weeks other topics were bigger, and in the end it accounted for not much more of the campaign newshole (18%) than assessments of the candidates in the four debates (17%).
Horse race reporting, once again, made up the majority of coverage, but less so than earlier in the contest or than in previous elections. Since the conventions ended, 53% of the newshole studied has focused on political matters, particularly tactics, strategy and polling. That is more than twice as much as the coverage focused on policy (20%). This focus on tactics and horse race grew in the last three weeks as both campaigns became more negative in their rhetoric.