Election Coverage Positively Trivial; Strategy Upstages Policy Issues

Article excerpt

Byline: Jennifer Harper, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

The stories may be kind - but there's little meat on them.

The entire field of White House hopefuls is getting more positive coverage than negative, according to an analysis of election news stories released today by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). Discussion of important policy issues was minimal, however, upstaged by insider speculation or the details of political strategies.

The study analyzed 765 stories broadcast from Dec. 16 to Jan. 27 on NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox News.

Candidate bashing was not the norm: In more than 22 hours of broadcasts, 62 percent of the stories featuring Democratic candidates were positive in nature. Among stories focusing on the Republican field, 58 percent were positive.

"Where's the beef?" the study asked, in search of proverbial "red meat" content.

Only 20 percent of the stories contained any substantive discussion of real issues, the kind of content that voters say they pine for, according to recent studies by the CMPA, Pew Research Center and other groups. The remaining coverage endlessly teased apart the tactics of contenders along the campaign trail or addressed the "what-ifs" of the presidential race and the potential victor.

"Issue coverage goes up and down from election to election, but horse race coverage is forever," said CMPA director Robert Lichter. "It's a classic problem. Voters simply don't follow politics like the press. Journalists have heard those stump speeches a hundred times, so they rely on analysis to flesh things out. …