U.S. media coverage of last year’s election was three times more likely to be negative toward President Bush than Democratic challenger John Kerry, according to a study released Monday.

The annual report by a press watchdog that is affiliated with Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism said that 36 percent of stories about Bush were negative compared to 12 percent about Kerry, a Massachusetts senator.

Only 20 percent were positive toward Bush compared to 30 percent of stories about Kerry that were positive, according to the report by the Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The study looked at 16 newspapers of varying size across the country, four nightly newscasts, three network morning news shows, nine cable programs and nine Web sites through the course of 2004.

Examining the public perception that coverage of the war in Iraq was decidedly negative, it found evidence did not support that conclusion. The majority of stories had no decided tone, 25 percent were negative and 20 percent were positive, it said.

The three network nightly newscasts and public broadcaster PBS tended to be more negative than positive, while Fox News was twice as likely to be positive as negative.

Looking at public perceptions of the media, the report showed that more people thought the media was unfair to both Kerry and Bush than to the candidates four years earlier, but fewer people thought news organizations had too much influence on the outcome of the election.

“It may be that the expectations of the press have sunk enough that they will not sink much further. People are not dismayed by disappointments in the press. They expect them,” the authors of the report said.

The study noted a huge rise in audiences for Internet news, particularly for bloggers whose readers jumped by 58 percent in six months to 32 million people.

Despite the growing importance of the Web, the report said investment was not keeping pace and some 62 percent of Internet professionals reported cutbacks in the newsroom in the last three years, even more than the 37 percent of print, radio and TV journalists who cited cutbacks in their newsrooms.

“For all that the number of outlets has grown, the number of people engaged in collecting original information has not,” the report said, noting that much of the investment was directed at repackaging and presenting information rather than gathering news.