Arab Media Boosts Obama

September 7, 2010

September 7, 2010
Contact: Donald Rieck


A new study finds that President Obama’s news coverage is more positive in Arab and European television newscasts than on US network news. His most positive coverage came from Al-Jazeera, the controversial international news network based in Qatar, while his most negative coverage came from the US-based Fox News Channel.

The study follows a recent Gallup poll showing that Muslim-Americans rate President Obama more favorably than any other religious group and a Pew Center poll finding that almost one in five Americans incorrectly believe that President Obama is a Muslim.

The study, by media scholars Stephen Farnsworth and Robert Lichter of George Mason University and Roland Schatz of Media Tenor International, was released at the American Political Science Association annual conference in Washington DC.

They examined coverage of President Obama from January 2009 through June 2010 on the evening newscasts of 13 major television outlets in the USA (ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX “Special Report);” in Europe (BBC1 and BBC2 in England and ARD and ZDF in Germany); and the Middle East (Al-Arabiyah, Al-Jazeera, Al-Manar, LBC, Nile News).

The researchers classified 76,844 statements about Mr. Obama in news stories as positive, negative, or neutral in tone. Then they subtracted the percent of negative statements from the percent of positive statements to create a net tone score for each network. For example, in 2009 nine percent of all statements on ABC were positive toward Mr. Obama and 15 percent were negative, for a net tone score of -6 (six percent more negative than positive coverage).


In both 2009 and 2010, President Obama’s best press came from Arab television news outlets, and his worst press came from US television news. The tone of European newscasts fell between that of the Middle Eastern and American outlets.

In 2009 the president’s net tone score was +7.6 on Arab outlets (7.6% more positive than negative coverage). It was +2.6 on European outlets (2.6% more positive than negative coverage). But on US outlets his net tone was -7.9 (7.9% more negative than positive coverage).

In 2010 Mr. Obama’s coverage became more negative everywhere, but it remained least negative on Arab outlets and most negative on US outlets: -3.99 in Arab newscasts, -6.5 in Europe, and -12.0 in the US.

Al-Jazeera’s coverage was most pro-Obama, and Fox News Channel’s coverage was most anti-Obama. In 2009 Al-Jazeera’s net tone score was +17.5, while Fox “Special Report’s” score was -13.5. In 2010 the tone score on Al-Jazeera fell to -2.0; on Fox it fell to -16.3.

Although the overall tone of Obama’s US coverage was dragged down by Fox, all three US broadcast networks also produced negative net tone scores (indicating more negative than positive coverage) in both 2009 and 2010. By contrast, every European and Arab outlet had positive net tone scores in 2009 (indicating more positive than negative coverage).

Among the European outlets studied, Obama received more favorable coverage in Germany than in the United Kingdom. The combined tone scores for ZDF and ARD were +7.7 in 2009 and -3.9 in 2010, compared to combined BBC1 and BBC2 tone scores of +3.2 in 2009 and -12.1 (even lower than the US newscasts) in 2010.

US and Foreign Media Had Different News Agendas The differences in tone partly reflect the different focus of news about the US government in different parts of the world. In addition, coverage of Mr. Obama’s personality and character were covered more positively abroad than at home./p>

Thus, Arab media were critical of the US “war on terror” and Middle East policies, but their coverage was favorable toward the Obama administration’s policies on international trade, immigration, and the economy.

By contrast, US media were critical of the president’s health care reform policies and his domestic response to the economic crisis (such as bailouts of US corporations), which received less attention in the foreign media.


The Center for Media and Public Affairs is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization, which is affiliated with George Mason University. It has monitored every presidential election and every new administration since 1988 using the same methodology. For CMPA findings on the Obama administration see:

The Media Tenor Institute for Media Content Analysis is the world’s leading provider of international media content analysis (print, TV, radio, online, blogs, newsgroups) on a continuous and wide-ranging basis. Every day more than 240 analysts meticulously monitor global trends in more than 700 media outlets worldwide.

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