A new study released today by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism explains that the “mainstream” political media isn’t biased after all — they’re equally negative in their coverage of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney!
“The study, which examines the “master narratives” in the press about the candidates’ character traits and records, finds that 72% of the Obama narrative, and 71% of the Romney narrative, has been negative. That makes this as negative as any campaign studied since PEJ began monitoring the master narratives in the press coverage of presidential campaigns in 2000. Only the 2004 race, shaped by the war Iraq and the Swift boat controversy, was comparable.”
And what are these “master narratives” being negatively spun by the news media?
“The No. 1 narrative about President Obama in the media is that his economic policies have failed. Fully 36% of the statements about his character and record make that case-more than twice the number (16%) that suggests he has helped the economy.
On the other side, the No. 1 narrative abut Romney is that he is a “vulture” capitalist who doesn’t care about workers, which accounted for 14% of the statements about his character, followed closely by the idea that he is a wealth elitist (13%).”
And the kicker? 2012 practices we’ve covered, like ‘campaign quote approval,’ are giving journalists restricted access to candidates compared to past campaigns, leading to ‘soundbite and surrogate’ focused story lines, rather than more substantial, informative coverage delivering actual opinions and anlaysis:
“Just as telling, the press itself is a shrinking source of the master narratives about the candidates, and the campaigns are a growing source. Since 2000, the percentage of assertions about the candidates coming from journalists has dropped by almost half-from 50% to 27%. And the percentage of what the public hears coming from the campaigns and their allies has grown from 37% to 48%.”
Still, this doesn’t entirely explain the rising negativity of the 2012 political news media — hack campaign journalism, the 24 hour partisan news cycle, and the internet all existed in previous electoral cycles. PEJ director Tom Rosenstiel believes the overwhelming negativity of the 2012 political news media is the result of a downward spiral — As cable news and online formats (led by the twin bastions of FOX News and MSNBC) become more and more extreme and successful at appealing to niche audiences, the the 2012 political media has become more driven by ratings and web traffic than journalistic integrity, leading to sensationalized negative coverage:
“The American news media in its coverage of the candidates appears increasingly to be a conduit of partisan rhetoric and less a source than it once was of independent reporting… This may reflect the impact of shrinking newsrooms. But it probably also helps explain why the campaign feels so negative.”