Perot: Favorable Coverage Is Over

Article excerpt

WITH the Democrats having nominated their ticket of Bill Clinton and Al Gore, and the Republicans ready next month to complete the formality of renominating George Bush and Dan Quayle, most of the many distractions which have left the 1992 campaign so superficially volatile and confusing have at last been removed.

It's easier now to see that the one compelling question for Americans to resolve in this presidential contest is: Will it be Mr. Bush or Mr. Clinton who will take the oath of office on January 20th?

The remaining distraction is, of course, Ross Perot. His poll numbers peaked about a month ago and are now falling - only 20 percent say they're inclined to support him in a Washington Post/ABC poll released Wednesday. More importantly, this and other recent surveys show that as the electorate has begun to focus on Mr. Perot as a possible president of the United States, the proportion viewing him unfavorably has climbed sharply.

Still, a man who is manifestly unprepared and ill-suited for the nation's highest political office, and who never showed a mass base of real support - "I don't know much about him" is still the predominant public response to Perot - was for three months the campaign's center of attention. How did this come about?

Studies by the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonpartisan Washington research center which does content analysis of media news stories, provide a large part of the answer. Its latest findings, just released, show that from January 1 through June 2, both Bush and Clinton got far more bad coverage than good in the networks' evening news broadcasts. "On-air evaluations of Bush were 78 percent negative in election stories," the Center reports, "as he endured 23 straight weeks of predominantly bad press." Clinton fared a little better: Over this span, his coverage was only 59 percent negative. In sharp contrast, 64 percent of the on-air evaluations of Perot were positive.

What, then, did the public get from the medium where most get their news? Short snippets mostly favorable to a "can-do billionaire businessman," coupled with almost unremittingly negative coverage of the incumbent and his Democratic opponent.

Let's be clear that none of this came about because Bush and Clinton were manifesting presidential weakness in contrast to Perot's strength. …