(NNPA)—News media coverage of President Obama is much more negative than stories about each of his Republican challengers, netting him almost four negative stories for every positive one.
That’s the conclusion of an extensive study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. According to the report, titled “The Media Primary,” Texas Gov. Rick Perry received the most coverage and was subject to the most favorable coverage until several weeks ago, when he was overtaken in that category by Herman Cain.
“One man running for president has suffered the most unrelenting negative treatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1,” the report stated. “Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during those five months was more than 10 percent of the coverage about the president positive in tone.”
The analysis of coverage in 11,500 news media outlets was conducted from May 2-Oct. 9. While 57 percent of Obama’s coverage was considered neutral, 9 percent was positive and 34 percent was negative. At the other end of the spectrum, 32 percent of Rick Perry’s coverage was rated positive and 20 percent considered negative.
Every Republican candidate still in the race except Newt Gingrich had favorable coverage at least double that of President Obama. In the cases of Michele Bachman and Herman Cain, it was triple the positive coverage of Obama and nearly triple for Republican front-runner Mitt Romney.
Only Gingrich had a higher percentage of negative coverage than Obama with 35 percent, just one percentage point higher than the president. However, Gingrich’s favorable coverage stood at 15 percent, six points higher than Obama’s.
Interestingly, although Perry did not enter the race until August—three months after the study began—he received more coverage than any other candidate. Moreover, even after poor performances in the Republican presidential debates, he received the most flattering coverage over the period studied—32 percent positive, 20 percent negative and the remainder neutral.
Coverage of Cain was 28 percent positive—two points higher than Romney—and 23 percent negative, which was four points lower than Romney’s negative coverage. Cain’s recent coverage has more positive than his overall numbers reflect because prior to his winning the Florida straw poll, he was largely ignored and received more negative coverage than in recent weeks.
The sour economy and Republican attacks are responsible for much of President Obama’s negative coverage, according to the study.
“In many stories, Obama was the target of not only the whole roster of GOP presidential contenders. He was also being criticized in often harsh terms by Republicans in Congress,” the study found. “Added to that, members of his own party began criticizing him on both policy and strategy grounds, particularly as his poll numbers fell. And for much of this period, the president’s coverage reflected the biggest problem on his watch—a continual flow of bad news about the U.S. economy.”
Even the killing of Osama bin Laden did not reverse the president’s poll numbers.
“One reason is that many of the references to his [Obama’s] role in the hunt for bin Laden were matched by skepticism that he would receive any long term political benefit from it. Another was the bin Laden news was tempered with news about the nation’s economy.”
And that is the problem. While journalists are compelled to cover stories about political warfare and the economy, they should not attack Obama or anyone else in news stories under the guise of providing context for readers and viewers.
An Associated Press story on May 2 is a textbook example of this problem:
“A nation surly over rising gas prices, stubbornly high unemployment and nasty partisan politics poured into the streets to wildly cheer President Barack Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, had been killed by U.S. forces after a decade long manhunt. The outcome could not have come at a better time for Obama, sagging in the poll as he embarks on his re-election campaign.”
The news of bin Laden’s death was almost buried.
The story could have also been presented this way:
“Despite former President George W. Bush’s promise to capture Osama bin Laden ‘dead or alive,’ it was his successor who delivered on that promise in grand fashion, prompting thousands of U.S. citizens to take to the streets in noisy celebration.”
Another option: “President Obama, who had his foreign policy credentials questioned repeatedly during the 2008 presidential campaign, delivered on a campaign pledge to kill Osama bin Laden if ever presented the opportunity, a surprise action that led to impromptu celebrations across the United States.”
Either approach would have provided more relevant context than AP wrapping its story in the highly-charged language of his Republican challengers.
President Obama knew he would be double-teamed by GOP congressional leaders and Republican candidates hoping to unseat him. But he probably didn’t expect the stealth attacks from major media outlets.
(George E. Curry, former editor-in-chief of Emerge magazine and the NNPA News Service, is a keynote speaker, moderator, and media coach. He can be reached through his Web site, www.georgecurry.com. You can also follow him at www.twitter.com/currygeorge.)