Media faulted for campaign hype

The media, with its need for front runners, rankings and pedestals to both place candidates upon and then knock off, creates an artificial environment for political campaigns.

That’s the conclusion of a study due for release today on the effect the media has on the political campaign process.

A key finding suggests the media is, for the most part, our of touch with the attitudes of American voters.

The study should provide ample fodder for both Republican and Democratic candidates who will blame the media for their campaign failures.

Reports The Associated Press:

When it comes to presidential politics, the news media loves front-runners. And seems to hate them, too.

Within the first five months of the presidential contest, the media effectively had reduced the field to five candidates, even though there were 17 mainstream Democrats and Republicans, a study of political coverage found.

But the tone of the coverage for the top two front-runners — Democrat Hillary Rodham Clinton and Republican Rudy Giuliani — hardly was friendly. Nearly four out of 10 stories were negative, more than three out of 10 were neutral and only the rest were positive.

The study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy, to be released Monday, also portrays the political press as a hidebound institution out of touch with the desires of citizens.

Among the findings:

• Stories focused more on fundraising and polls than on where candidates stood on the issues, despite a public demand for more attention to the policies, views and records of the candidates.

• The public’s attention to campaign news is higher now than it was at similar points in the past two elections, but that interest is only shared by less than one in four people.

• Five candidates — Democrats Clinton and Barack Obama and Republicans Giuliani, Mitt Romney and John McCain — received more than half the coverage. Elizabeth Edwards, the cancer-stricken wife of Democrat John Edwards, received almost as much media attention as her husband.

• Democrats, overall, got more coverage — and more positive ink and airtime — than Republicans.

• Obama enjoyed the friendliest coverage of the presidential field; McCain endured the most negative. That was due in part to the media’s focus on fundraising; Obama raised more than expected and McCain raised less.

The report is the most thorough analysis yet of media coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign and offers both a sober evaluation as well as a dash of guidance on how to improve. But the report’s authors are not necessarily optimistic. They note that a study of the 2000 presidential election reached similar conclusions.

They argue that this election could represent a generational struggle in both parties, but that early media coverage failed to capture that fundamental tension.

“If American politics is changing,” the report concluded, “the style and approach of the American press does not appear to be changing with it.”

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said journalists face a conundrum: In a campaign that started as early as this one, why spend resources in a detailed analysis of candidates views and stances when the public is not that engaged? Or is the public not engaged because the media is focusing on tactics and insider stories that don’t affect readers, viewers and listeners?

The report analyzed 1,742 articles about the presidential contest that appeared from January through May in 48 news outlets including print, online, network TV, cable and radio news and talk shows.


  1. Sandra Price

    I believe the article focused on the media coverage of the candidates. The media exists on advertising sales; setting up and then knocking down the candidates sells newspapers, television commercials and radio ads.

    The writers for these varioua forums of media will oblige the publishers and producers as there are so many commentators that only those who can prove their financial worth are hired.

    It’s the same with movies. Every producer and director can see the trends that sell their films. Why should we expect anything else?

    We all know the slant of Fox and CNN so why be surprised when their writers and producers promote their opinions? we live in a “gotcha” media and it sells advertising.

  2. SEAL

    Judy: I agree with you that the solution is to equalize the campaign funding for each “qualified” candidate. Try to visualize what the standings in the polls would be for the democrap candidates right now if the money had been equal from the beginning. With equal public exposure I would bet the standings would be very close to equal with maybe one having a 5-10 point lead over the rest.

    The problem with the present system is that hardly anyone hears or sees more than half of the candidates. Those with the huge bank rolls like Hillary and Obama simply drowned out the others. That’s why they lead. We have the best electoral system money can buy.

    Public funding is the answer with laws prohibiting outsider campaign ads and some method of qualifying candidates. Even with this system I am sure the press would practice some bias, but being the press they will go where the news is being made and that will be the controversy between candidates, which is how it should be.

  3. keith

    The one fatal flaw in our Constitution is that our founding fathers never dreamed that all three branches of our government (along with the so-called “free” press) would become so thoroughly corrupt…and all at the same time.

    As I and others have noted in numerous other posts, most (if not all) of the checks and balances that were carefully crafted into our system of government have now been so completely corrupted to the point that they are no longer effective.

    We have a President who calls the Constitution just another “goddamned piece of paper”, a Congress full of bums, wimps, perverts, and thieves who are beholden only to themselves (and to their corporate sponsors) and a judiciary that has been hand-picked to consistently look the other way to let it all happen.

    In order to work properly, our Constitutional system of government also relies heavily on an informed and engaged electorate to keep everyone in the system accountable for their actions.

    Unfortunately, right now, the electorate seems FAR more interested in who the next “American Idol” will be rather than the next President. Maybe that’s because what’s now being served up by the totally corrupt mainstream news media as “news” is little more than “entertainment” specifically designed for no other purpose than to fill the media’s own corporate coffers.

    “We the (now largely ignorant) People” are LETTING all of this happen. And “We the People” could stop all this corruption right in its tracks with our ballots at the next election.

    But we probably won’t.

    Maybe that’s because we, too, have now become a nation full of lazy bums, thieves, perverts and liars who are far too busy being “entertained” to care about what happens to our nation as a whole.

    So, in that sense, we are now simply reaping what we, ourselves, have sown.

  4. Tinker

    It’s as simple as this: The in-the-media front runners are like a popular movie box office hit – lots of action, catching the attention of people who are attracted to that sort of celebrity glitz, but with little substance!

    The real oscar winners are in the critically acclaimed movie, and the deep thinkers who are genuinely worried about picking someone who can walk into the office of president and hit the ground running to rescue our country from the last horribly incompetant administration, are watching this group of candidates.

    I’m in Iowa and my support goes to Joe Biden, as the person best qualified to Handle that job!

  5. AustinRanter

    GEZZZZZ, Its about time!

    Why hasn’t this been a headline and this story been a hot topic for months? Isn’t it obvious that the corporations are creating the candidates for America to vote for…not “We the People”!


  6. Elmo

    Stories focused more on fundraising and polls than on where candidates stood on the issues, despite a public demand for more attention to the policies, views and records of the candidates.

    And I thought it was just my jaded point-of-view.

    Last election cycle it took the swiftboaters and similar election ads until Labor Day before I wanted to puke every time I heard the words “election”, “poll”, “candidate”, etc. Here it is Halloween of the year before the conventions and I’m already fed up with the lack of useful information. You’d think that they didn’t want anyone to be informed. Oh, wait…

  7. JudyB

    I believe Doug has said for years “follow the Money”..he is so right! Its all about raising money when it comes to the candidates & media. When the Constitution was written, I doubt if “corporate backers” existed (I am sure there was money involved in some way used to sell a candidate)however, there were no phones,tvs,
    radios,internet,to keep people RAPIDLY informed either with the truth or lies. There have always been people with integrity and morals, but in todays world there is just so much media hype around, and so much money to be garnered that it makes decernment difficult if not impossible. The “Swift Boaters” and and what was done to McCain is absolute proof that there are far too many citizens who will not do the necessary research then drink the Kool-Ade regardless if it is poison.