No News or Negative News: How the Networks Nixed the '96 Campaign
S. Robert Lichter Georgetown University
Richard E. Noyes Center for Media & Public Affairs
Lynda Lee Kaid University of Oklahoma
Network television coverage of presidential campaigns has changed in many ways over the past three decades. The 1996 presidential campaign may well be remembered for embodying two of the most significant of these changes: less straight news about the candidates and the issues and more commentary (often negative) from journalists themselves.
Researchers began to do systematic analysis of presidential campaign coverage in the early 1970s. Prompted by then Vice President Spiro Agnew's accusations of political bias in the late 1960s, the first meticulous examinations of network television coverage focused on the 1972 presidential campaign. These early studies concluded that, although some differences in coverage between the networks and the candidates were identifiable, there was no clear political bias ( Frank, 1973; Hofstetter, 1976).
The conclusions from these studies were so widely accepted by scholars and so happily cited by the networks themselves that little credence was given to charges of political bias in presidential campaign coverage over the next several election cycles. Most other studies used similar methodologies and assumptions and came to similar conclusions ( Robinson & Sheehan, 1983).