Calling the Shots

Article excerpt

Byline: The Register-Guard

Leading up to the Republicans' and Democrats' national conventions, mainstream media campaign coverage of Mitt Romney and Barack Obama was "as negative as any campaign in recent times," with neither candidate achieving an advantage, according to a new study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

The Pew researchers examined 1,722 assertions about the two candidates in more than 800 stories in 50 major news outlets among newspapers, network television, cable television, radio and news websites from May 29 through Aug. 5.

The project was started during the 2000 election and the researchers said only two previous presidential candidates have been portrayed as negatively as Obama and Romney: Al Gore in 2000 and George W. Bush in 2004. While Obama's negative coverage was 72 percent during the 10-week study period and Romney's 71 percent, Gore's was 80 percent and Bush's 74 percent, they said.

The study, available online at, breaks down the media coverage into what researchers call "master narrative themes." It says the Obama coverage was dominated by two main, opposing themes, both having to do with his economic record as president: His policies have failed to help the economy, or the economy would be in much worse shape without the actions he's taken. Thirty-six percent of the media assertions supported the former and only 16 percent the latter.

The top three Romney narratives suggested that he is a "vulture" capitalist who doesn't care about workers (14 percent), that he is a rich elitist (13 percent) and that he is a weak campaigner who is prone to commit gaffes on the campaign trail (11 percent).

The researchers admit they don't know why this year's media coverage has been so negative but suggest that a key factor may be that "journalists to an increasing degree are ceding control of what the public learns in elections to partisan voices ... campaigns, surrogates and allies."

In 2000, they said, 37 percent of the assertions about Gore's and Bush's "character and biography" came from partisan sources and 50 percent from mainstream media journalists, while this year the numbers have flip-flopped to 48 percent and 27 percent, respectively. …