STUDY: OBAMA’S MEDIA COVERAGE SOURS

September 14, 2009

Press Release
September 14, 2009
Contact: Donald Rieck

NEGATIVITY ROSE SHARPLY AFTER FIRST 100 DAYS

PRESIDENT’S POLICIES ATTRACT THE STRONGEST CRITICISM

President Obama has received mainly bad press since his first 100 days in office ended in April, reversing his previous run of positive news coverage, according to a new study by researchers at George Mason and Chapman Universities. The study finds that every major policy of the administration has received more criticism than praise from the press.

This study covers 2480 news stories about the Obama administration that appeared on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts, the front page of the New York Times, and Time and Newsweek from January 20 through August 19. We also conducted a separate analysis of 1193 stories on the Fox News Channel “Special Report.” This research was conducted by researchers at George Mason University in Fairfax VA and Chapman University in Orange CA, and coordinated by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). For information on our methodology see: https://cmpa.gmu.edu/about_methods.htm

Bad Press Rises While evaluations of President Obama during the first 100 days of his presidency (Jan. through April) were 59% positive (v. 41% negative), they dropped to only 43% positive (v. 57% negative) from May through mid-August. Throughout the first eight months of his term, his coverage overall is still slightly more positive than negative, by 53% to 47%. Examples:

Positive: He has made the country comfortable with himself as president. They seem to like his approach, how he argues through things… – Jeff Greenfield, CBS, April 26

Negative: After coming into office saying they were going to engage Iran and after six months of doing nothing, what do they do now? – David Gregory, NBC, June 13

Policies Hit Hardest Mr. Obama’s policies attracted the greatest criticism in the media. Since he took office on Jan. 20, evaluations of his policies by reporters and sources have been 43% positive and 57% negative, while all other evaluations of him have been 68% positive and 32% negative. Although the heaviest criticism came on foreign policy issues, every major policy initiative has received more negative than positive evaluations.

The president’s economic stimulus plan garnered the best press – 47% positive – and the war on terror the worst – only 26% positive. On other issues, coverage of the administration’s health care reform policies was 44% positive, general economic policy was 41% positive, the financial bailouts of various industries received 35% positive comments, policies on Israel and the Middle East were 30% positive, and Afghanistan policies got 29% positive evaluations.

Mr. Obama’s coverage throughout his term has been mainly favorable in the New York Times (61% positive evaluations), evenly balanced (50% positive) at the broadcast networks, and slightly negative (48% positive) in the news magazines.

Worst Press on FOX President Obama fared far worse on Fox News Channel’s “Special Report” than on the broadcast networks or the prestige press – only 23% positive v. 77% negative evaluations. [We analyzed the first half-hour of “Special Report,” which most resembles the broadcast network newscasts in format.]

Unlike the other outlets we analyzed, FOX has been consistent in the tone of its coverage, with 21% positive evaluations during the administration’s first 100 days and 25% positive evaluations since then. Like the other outlets, FOX was most critical of Mr. Obama’s policies. They received only 15% positive evaluations, compared to 41% positive evaluations on all other aspects of his presidency.

Example: “President Obama introduced his nominee to be Secretary of the Army without the mention of an attack on Army soldiers inside the U.S., no condemnation, and no condolences…” — Bret Baier, FOX, June 3

Obama-centric News Coverage of the Obama administration has focused heavily on the president himself. Even members of his family have been featured in more stories than most than most of his appointees.

Top 10 administration newsmakers:

  1. President Obama – 1205 stories
  2. H. Clinton – 107
  3. T. Geithner – 83
  4. Michelle Obama – 79
  5. Joe Biden – 33
  6. E. Holder – 31
  7. R. Gates – 30
  8. Sasha Obama – 28
  9. Malia Obama – 28
  10. R. Gibbs – 20

The Economy Leads Despite heavy coverage of health reform and the war on terror, economic topics have generated by far the most stories on the administration.

Top 10 administration topics:

  1. Economic conditions – 279
  2. Economic stimulus – 225
  3. Industry bailouts – 159
  4. Afghanistan – 159
  5. Health care reform – 156
  6. Int’l terrorism – 112
  7. Iraq – 90
  8. Guantanamo – 82
  9. Iran – 72
  10. Unemployment – 65

CMPA 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 2008 elections see: https://cmpa.gmu.edu/studies_election_08.htm

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