Political Animal


October 17, 2011 3:25 PM So much for the ‘liberal’ media

By Steve Benen

It’s simply taken as a given in Republican circles that President Obama enjoys favorable coverage from major media outlets. This is generally pretty hard to believe among non-conservatives, but it’s helpful to take this out of the realm of perception and into more quantifiable analysis.

The Pew Research Center published this report today with some striking results.

Rick Perry received the most favorable coverage of any candidate for president during the first five months of the race, but now Herman Cain is enjoying that distinction, according to a new survey which combines traditional research methods and computer algorithmic technology to code the level and tone of news coverage.

Perry lost the mantle of the candidate enjoying the most favorable treatment to Herman Cain two weeks ago, after the Florida straw poll in which Cain scored a surprise victory. Meanwhile, though he has often led in the polls, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney has received less coverage and less positive coverage than the shifting casts of frontrunners — and that remains true even now. He ranks second in the amount of attention received, and the tone of that narrative has been unwaveringly mixed.

One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-to-1. The assessments of the president in the media were substantially more negative than positive in every one of the 23 weeks studied. In no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the President positive in tone.

The accompanying chart really helped drive the point home:

The image shows coverage by candidate, with those receiving more favorable coverage higher up on the chart. That candidate way down there at the bottom? That’s the president.

Obama’s coverage “has been substantially more negative in every one of the last 23 weeks of the last five months — even the week that Bin Laden was killed,” Tom Rosenstiel, director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism, said of the president’s treatment in the media compared with that of the GOP field.

“Liberal” media, indeed.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.


Post a comment
  • chi res on October 17, 2011 3:27 PM:

    Comes with the territory. At least Newt had more negative coverage than Obama.

  • just bill on October 17, 2011 3:34 PM:

    "the project for excellence in journalism"? sounds like they've got a lot of work ahead of them.

    nojoburb 341. got it captcha

  • K in VA on October 17, 2011 3:36 PM:

    No matter the person, no matter the issue, Democrats have to run harder just to stay even with Republicans. With rare exception any more, the press wins Republicans a few extra points of support from the public on every damned issue.

    I despair: Citizens United will mean hundreds of millions (a few billion?) more spent on behalf of Republicans next year. Between that, and a liberal-bashing, false-equivalency-seeking press, and a weakened base (unions), and unable-to-vote supporters (old, minorities, students), how much longer will Democrats be able to win anything?

  • Mitch on October 17, 2011 3:44 PM:

    "Liberal Media" is one of those things like ("Persecution against Christians") that is all in the mind of the believer. It's all a part of the Right's victimization complex.

    Worst part is, it's almost impossible to fight. As Steve often says, "Reality has a liberal bias," but if you try to point that out then you automatically become part of the Liberal Conspiracy. You immediately become the Bad Guy trying to oppress them.

    Personally I think that's a big part of the reason that all media leans right these days. Especially for NPR, MSNBC, CNN, etc., which are viewed as Left-Leaning - unless you actually count their stories, and see how they favor Right over Left on a day-to-day basis.

    With a few exceptions (Rachel Maddow, especially) they are all afraid of being called "liberal" so they make sure to invite McCain on as frequently as possible, and seldom question conservative ideology. If they do question it, then they make sure to turn around and say something negative about the Dems (even if it is baseless) to avoid being called Liberal.

  • j on October 17, 2011 3:54 PM:

    The new poll released today saying the corporate media give Obama much worse coverage than they do the GOP makes me wonder if there is a co-relation between the negative coverage, and then the after coverage polls that say Obama is low in the polls, I am beginning to think this is all engineered. Folks, turn off CNN & Fox,watch Current, Free Speech TV and MSNBC.

  • FRP on October 17, 2011 3:56 PM:

    Imagining the torment Al Gore endured from the bi polar fainting couch ingenues and mangenues . Dowd dog rabid leg thrill professional smear journalists who celebrated , sweet , sweet Judi Miller and her earnest dry humping cub reporter Michael R. Gordon . When The Vice President wasn't driven to licking the bathroom floor according to the cool cerebral assessments of the tweety bird of coal mine politics , his sexuality was of first , uppermost , concern .
    In retrospect even if the man from Tennessee had acquired hormonal testing demonstrating a normal physical balance against the certainty of his dubious sexuality from such august solons , who without blushing suggested that the once admired , Naomi Wolf , who now became a pariah who promoted things she didn't support , because , forced herself and her perverted opinions on the vacillating , lactating , impotent candidate .
    Oh , never mind ...

  • bleh on October 17, 2011 4:17 PM:

    Ah, but this is just more librul media reporting. Using librul "logic" and librul "facts" and librul "math."

    Everybody knows George Soros has them all bought off.

    And remember, Hillary had Vince Foster murdered, and he was her FRIEND.

  • T2 on October 17, 2011 4:18 PM:

    it's just like the LIberal Media to put out a story like this, try and convince everyone that Obama is being treated bad. So transparent. Everyone knows this Pew place is run by commies and Kenyans.

  • Upper West on October 17, 2011 4:20 PM:

    I don't think this means much unless it's compared with treatment of Dem and Rep candidates in 2007, 2003 etc.

    (It need not be done for 1999-2000 -- it's obvious that the media knee-capped Gore.

  • DAY on October 17, 2011 4:31 PM:

    Perhaps they give this positive coverage because they know the right will watch and lap it up and the left will watch and rant.
    Let us NOT forget that their goal is to deliver eyeballs to advertisers.

  • Bernard HP Gilroy on October 17, 2011 4:34 PM:

    "See? Even though all those newspapers, tv news programs, reporters, and such are so stridently pro-Obama, he's doing such a bad job they can't spin it as a positive."
    So sayeth the rabid right wing. If the story is good for liberals, then the media is biased. And if the story is bad for liberals, then the media is the last bulwark getting the truth out there.

    ObCAPTCHA: aladlu vanishes! Something out of a Mandrake the Magician strip, I guess.

  • David in Nashville on October 17, 2011 4:58 PM:

    Actually, I think this is simply a measurement of responsibility. Look at this list: one Democrat and a slew of Republicans. Of the Republicans, only one [Perry] is a responsible public official; two more are backbench congresspeople with little legislative respect. The others hold no public office. Given the unwillingness of journalists to actually analyze a political position, contrasted with their willingness to blame a president for everything that happens on his watch [or doesn't stop happening on his watch] regardless of what he actually says or does, this result is hardly surprising. Results matter; words don't. Comparing a guy responsible for results to a gaggle of people who only bloviate will yield this result. If the party positions were reversed, I think we'd see a similar pattern.

  • FRP on October 17, 2011 5:04 PM:

    With contagions the key is to clean up known sources of the menace .

    It need not be done for 1999-2000 -- it's obvious that the media knee-capped Gore.

    Not so obvious as the carriers were never sterilized , decontaminated .
    The virulence is still maintaining its protein source , keeping good people from acting .
    The shame of the country and its consequence in our era will not be dealt with by schwepping the disease under a rocky rug .

  • Memekiller on October 17, 2011 5:35 PM:

    Anything that doesn't have an agenda - a conservative agenda - is not with them, and therefore against them. So journalism, science, nonpartisan organizations, the universe - all liberals.

    The only way not to be a liberal is to be a conservative tool of the 1 percent on every single issue. Perry differed on one - immigration. So he's a liberal.

    So, by the conservative definition, the media is liberal if it doesn't have negative stories on Obama 100 % of the time, and negative stories on the GOP more than zero.

  • Trollop on October 17, 2011 7:07 PM:

    Yeah, I just heard some more Obama bashing on NPR.. It wasn't even anything you know, legitimate! You know, "liberal" NPR!!

  • DownInTexas on October 17, 2011 7:33 PM:

    Republicans and their policies suck, they need all the help they can get! In a nutshell.

  • bobbo on October 17, 2011 8:07 PM:

    Look, it is certainly my impression that the media overall are worse for Obama/Dems than they are for Republicans. But what does "negative" mean? Is "Obama's approval rating slips" a negative story? How about looking at "critical" stories? What about a story that is inaccurate? What about a story that gives equal coverage to "both sides" of the global warming "debate"? Without knowing Pew's criteria, these studies are pretty meaningless.

  • J.C. on October 17, 2011 8:13 PM:

    This one is easy enough to dispute. It's obvious to most everyone on BOTH sides that the media has turned on Obama of late. I'd be much more interested in media quantifications for 2010. Or comparing Obama-as-President for the last 5 months with the 5 months before. I think the differences pre-Blood-in-the-Water would be pretty striking.

  • Brian T. Raven on October 17, 2011 9:01 PM:

    There's now less of a temptation to feel puzzled and frustrated with Democrats who spend so much time bad-mouthing the President. This chart makes clear just how much we have all been hammered day in and day out with the GOP anti-Obama message that was deployed even before the inaugural Bible was returned to the bookshelf. Now there's just sadness that so many in our ranks are as susceptible as they are to the insidious manipulation by the forces of fear and intolerance. How can we promote a crash course in critical thinking for the voting public in the few months that remain before the elections?

    This is a fantastic chart. It makes it all so clear. Thanks for posting it and thanks to the folks at Pew for their critical thinking skills.

  • MaryinChicago on October 17, 2011 9:34 PM:

    I'd love to know what Tom Rosenstiel would say about what I think is a big contributor to the "real" media bias: so-called "objectivity."

    No MSM outlet is willing to tell its readers/audience when a politician LIES. And "objectivity" has been dumbed down to mean simple even-handedness...which gives us thousands of he said/he said stories full of lies.

    But facts exist, no matter how many lies politicians tell about them. Wouldn't it be great if we could rely on journalists to distinguish between the two?

  • chi res on October 17, 2011 10:22 PM:

    You know, Brian, you may be right. It often seems that Krugman has as many ditto-heads as Limbaugh.

  • yellowdog on October 18, 2011 1:21 AM:

    Newt gets better press than Obama... Citizens of Rock Ridge win after all...

  • Jeff on October 18, 2011 9:19 AM:

    Obama's policies have been catastrophically bad. One would have expected obamas press to be 100% bad. The fact that it wasn't indicates liberal bias.

  • Mark D on October 18, 2011 9:57 AM:

    The problem (other than idiotic trolls like Jeff who ignore basic reality) isn't that the coverage is "negative."

    It's that the coverage uses GOP narratives to paint a negative picture, regardless of whether or not those narratives are true.

    Just look at when health care reform was being discussed. Night after night after night we saw elected Republican officials -- not bloggers or talk show hosts, but actual elected representatives -- knowingly lying about how the government was going to kill grandma to save a few bucks. Or look at birtherism, or the claims that there are all these new regulations swamping business (despite business owners saying the opposite), or increasing taxes on the wealthy ...

    Time after time after time, the media has bashed Obama using GOP lies and half truths.

    So, yeah, "liberal media" my skinny white ass ...

  • AMS on October 18, 2011 3:29 PM:

    I think there are several things at work:

    1. As I and others have commented before, all the GOP has to do is put out a claim about Obama (without regard to its truth) and the media does the rest, circulating it in an endless echo chamber until people believe there MUST be some truth to it.

    2. The media has a history of building people up only to stomp on them. This keeps conflict alive, and conflict sells newspapers/gets page views.

    3. As a previous poster pointed out, Obama has actual responsibility to accomplish things, whereas the candidates only have to run their mouths. Let's see how popular 9-9-9 or invading Iran are once they might actually come to pass!

    4. That said, I have noticed a steady stream of "glass half empty" spins on stories about the President ever since the killing of bin Laden. Anything he proposes triggers articles with headlines like "Some question whether President's "blank" initiative will really achieve "blank". Or the steady stream of "Obama loses support among independents/whites/Jews/African Americans/Wall Street" articles. These stories tend to become self-fulfilling prophecies. It's like junior high school---no one wants to be seen with the unpopular kid.

  • Anonymous on October 19, 2011 7:15 AM:

    Oh please.

    The fact that Obamba is getting ANY negative press after three years of the economy in the tank is astonishing. I lived through the Bush years, and there was an endless drumbeat of how horrible everything was from the press. Uptick in employment? Articles like "Why the uptick doesn't mean anything" and "Why people hate Bush" and "Iraq is destroying our economy". Unemployment UP under Obama? "Stimulus working, says Obama", "Recovery is around the corner", etc. Endless attacks on Bush for Guantanemo and Iraq (remember endless reports about deaths in Afghanistan and our running "death count"?) DEAFENING SILENCE on Obama. Press giddy when Obama is elected, but grim when a republican is.

    No media bias? Spare me.

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