Pew: Media treatment of Obama much more positive than Bush, Clinton

posted at 10:13 am on May 4, 2009 by Ed Morrissey

Last week, the Center for Media and Public Affairs produced a study claiming that the national media treated Barack Obama better in his first 50 days than it had George Bush and Bill Clinton combined during their same 50-day introductions.  Critics dismissed CMPA’s study as biased, but they’ll have a more difficult time dimissing Pew Research as a right-wing flack.  In their 100-day look released last week, Pew notes that Obama got twice as much good press as Bush and 50% more than Clinton:

As he marks his 100th day in office, President Barack Obama has enjoyed substantially more positive media coverage than either Bill Clinton or George Bush during their first months in the White House, according to a new study of press coverage.

Overall, roughly four out of ten stories, editorials and op ed columns about Obama have been clearly positive in tone, compared with 22% for Bush and 27% for Clinton in the same mix of seven national media outlets during the same first two months in office, according to a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The study found positive stories about Obama have outweighed negative by two-to-one (42% vs. 20%) while 38% of stories have been neutral or mixed.

When a broader universe of media—one that includes 49 outlets and reflects the more modern media culture of 2009, is examined, the numbers for Obama’s coverage are similar, though somewhat less positive and somewhat more negative. In this expanded universe of media—which includes news websites, additional regional and local newspapers, plus cable news, network morning news, and National Public Radio, 37% of Obama’s coverage has been positive, 40% neutral and 23% negative.

Clinton got good treatment from op-ed pages and tougher treatment in regular news.  For Bush, the opposite was true.  Obama, on the other hand, gets positive treatment from both.

Pew also notes that the types of coverage Obama receives seems designed to cast a halo on him.  Unlike Bush (22%) and Clinton (26%), almost half of all news stories on Obama (44%) focus on his personal and leadership qualities.  Those are the kinds of stories that usually take a soft focus, work in generalities, and put public figures in the best possible light.

Obama’s coverage differs in another key way.  Much of the Obama coverage (31%) reports on what can only be called Obama’s campaign mode, in which Obama communicates directly with the American people.  Only 8% of Bush’s coverage focused on those efforts.  The media focused much more on Bush’s relationship with Congress and his legislative agenda.

In other words, the media has given us a heapin’ helping of fluff in the first 100 days, and very little in specifics.  They’re allowing Obama to manipulate them into campaign coverage rather than shine a light on his governance.  The media seems quite “enchanted” with the new President, and this time it’s going to be tougher for them to dismiss the data that proves it.


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