Media coverage of the 2012 election was fair and balanced after all

You can see predictable spikes in the volume of coverage (the gray line) around big events. You can also see that Romney received somewhat more coverage than Obama in the outlets that General Sentiment was monitoring. But most importantly, you can see that once we factored in the tone of the coverage — the black line — the media favored neither candidate consistently. Sure, the week after the release of the 47 percent video was a rough one for Romney. But September wasn’t that great for Obama, either. Similarly, coverage of Obama was more negative, and coverage of Romney more positive, after the first debate — as the Project for Excellence in Journalism also showed using a different methodology — but this didn’t last long.

Ultimately, when we looked at the average across the entire fall campaign (and the same was true in the summer), we found that the tone of the coverage of the two candidates was almost exactly the same. Neither was covered much more positively or negatively than the other. This is consistent with the Project for Excellence in Journalism’s research and with scholarly research on previous presidential elections. Taken together, this is comforting evidence that the media writ large can approach election campaigns with minimal partisan or ideological bias.