Study shows media treats McCain negatively, Obama and Clinton kindly

Hillary Clinton has accused the media of being in the tank for Barack Obama, but according to a new study by Pew Research, she received a fairly positive reception during the primaries, at least through Texas and Ohio. Both campaigns received much better treatment than John McCain got as he clinched the nomination. The study shows that the two Democrats got positive treatment in the American media over two-thirds of the time, while the majority of McCain’s coverage was negative:

If campaigns for president are in part a battle for control of the master narrative about character, Democrat Barack Obama has not enjoyed a better ride in the press than rival Hillary Clinton, according to a new study of primary coverage by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

From January 1, just before the Iowa caucuses, through March 9, following the Texas and Ohio contests, the height of the primary season, the dominant personal narratives in the media about Obama and Clinton were almost identical in tone, and were both twice as positive as negative, according to the study, which examined the coverage of the candidates’ character, history, leadership and appeal—apart from the electoral results and the tactics of their campaigns. …

On the Republican side, John McCain, the candidate who quickly clinched his party’s nomination, has had a harder time controlling his message in the press. Fully 57% of the narratives studied about him were critical in nature, though a look back through 2007 reveals the storyline about the Republican nominee has steadily improved with time.

Glenn Greenwald crowed yesterday that Scott McClellan’s book somehow disproved the existence of liberal-media bias. He spoke a day too soon. In this case, the media doesn’t have the fig leaf of claiming that the bias comes from the natural role of the media to challenge the government. All three candidates are members of the same body, the Senate, which now runs under Democratic control, not Republican. That excuse for prior studies by Pew showing the same negative bias about Republicans can now be discarded entirely.

Interestingly, the media’s negative coverage emphasized his rocky relationship with conservatives. Fully half of all coverage about McCain focused on this point — not about policy. Only 9% of coverage focused on rebuttals to that argument. The next highest percentage of stories was on his character and conviction (19%) and then his appeal to moderates and independents (14%).

In contrast, Obama’s coverage centered on “hope and change” and “charisma”, both accounting for 47% of the media narrative during this period. Only 3% of the coverage reported on “narrow appeal”, but a whopping 16% focused on the rebuttal of that criticism. The chief theme of critical coverage looked at his youth and inexperience, but that only accounted for 12% of the media’s attention. Likewise, Hillary Clinton had a strange imbalance in refutation to criticism on the point of her personal negatives, with only 8% of media stories reporting on it while 14% of media coverage attempted to refute it. Thirty-eight percent of her coverage positively focused on her main theme of Day 1 ability to lead the countrym while only 4% of coverage took a critical look at that claim.

Translation: the liberal media bias is alive and well, and both Hillary and Obama benefit from it.