Networks Differ In Their Election Coverage

October 30, 2008

Press Release
October 30, 2008
Contact: Donald Rieck

NBC, CBS Most Pro-Democratic; ABC, FOX Most Balanced

Coverage of the presidential election on CBS and NBC strongly favors the Democratic presidential ticket, while the coverage on ABC and FOX is more balanced, according to a new study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). The study finds that the three broadcast networks combined have given twice as much good press to the Democratic presidential and vice-presidential candidates as they have to the Republicans, and only FOX has given better press to the GOP ticket than to the Democrats.

These results come from the ongoing Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA) 2008 Election News Watch Project. They are based on a scientific content analysis of 979 election news stories with 33 hours 40 minutes airtime that appeared on the ABC, CBS, NBC, and FOX evening newscasts (the first half hour of Fox News Channel’s “Special Report”) from August 23 to October 24. We report on all on-air evaluations of the candidates by sources and reporters, after excluding comments by the campaigns and their surrogates. We also exclude evaluations of how the candidates are faring in the campaign horse race.

MAJOR FINDINGS:

On the broadcast network newscasts, evaluations of Barack Obama and Joe Biden have been over twice as favorable as evaluations of John McCain and Sarah Palin– 65% positive versus 35% negative for the Democratic ticket compared to 31% positive verus 69% negative evaluations of the Republican ticket.

The tone of Fox News Channel’s nightly “Special Report” is both more balanced and more negative than the broadcast network shows. On FOX, McCain and Palin combined have received 39% favorable and 61% unfavorable comments, compared to 28% favorable and 72% unfavorable comments about Obama and Biden.

Among the broadcast networks, the coverage was most balanced on ABC with 57% favorable comments by sources and reporters toward the Democratic ticket compared to 42% positive comments about the Republican ticket.

The tone of comments on CBS and NBC was about equally tilted toward the Democrats. But CBS was more positive toward both party’s candidates – 73% positive evaluations of Obama and Biden, compared to 31% positive statements about McCain and Palin. On NBC the proportions dropped to 56% positive toward the former and only 16% positive toward the latter. (NBC’s coverage was even more positive toward Obama than was CBS’s. But evaluations of Biden, though infrequent, were mainly positive on CBS and negative on NBC.)

Examples:

Obama

People in this community say Barack Obama’s work inspires them to this day. – Kevin Tibbles, NBC, 10/2

I think [Obama] brings a freshness to Washington. – Voter, CBS, 10/14

Obama’s dollar deluge is possible because he broke a promise to accept public funding. – John Berman, ABC, 10/19

Biden

Joe Biden is experienced and talkative. Critics say too talkative. – Andrea Mitchell, CBS, 10/1

McCain

McCain has shown that he can work on both sides of the table to help this country. – Voter, ABC, 10/10

Even McCain’s own focus group didn’t buy [his tax policy]. – Andrea Mitchell, NBC, 10/16

What worries people is how John McCain has reacted to this [financial] crisis. – Peter Hart, pollster, NBC, 10/6

Palin

Even come conservatives say that Palin is not ready for prime time. – Andrea Mitchell, NBC, 10/1

Palin’s carefully cultivated Joe Sixpack image is now bumping up against a six-figure wardrobe. – Nancy Cordes, CBS, 10/22

This is the Sarah Palin that I think voters wanted to see… who is strong on policy, very compassionate, talking about issues that are not political but affect their families every day. – Blogger, FOX, 10/24

CMPA is a non-profit, non-partisan research organization which is affiliated with George Mason University. It has monitored every presidential election since 1988 using the same methodology, in which trained coders tally all mentions of candidates and issues and all evaluations of candidates. For previous CMPA findings on the 2008 elections: https://cmpa.gmu.edu/election-watch-2008/

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