White House ’08: A media love affair with Barack Obama?
Story by Chris Graham
Chances are that whether you’re a Democrat or Republican, you’re sure that the media coverage of the ’08 presidential election is tilted toward Barack Obama. A George Mason University study would show that not to be true, but hey, perception is reality these days, ain’t it?
“The perception is indeed that the love affair is very real,” said Jerry Lindsley, director of the Sacred Heart University Polling Institute, which released yesterday the results of a recent national poll that had 64.9 percent of those surveyed saying that the purported national media “love affair” with Obama is very (30.5 percent) real or somewhat (34.4 percent) real.
Majorities of self-identified Republicans (78.3 percent) and Democrats (58.5 percent) share in that perception, according to the polling.
The Sacred Heart data was based on interviews with 800 residents nationwide conducted between July 28 and Aug. 7. The margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 3.5 percent with a 95 percent confidence level.
The perceptions would seem to clash mightily with the findings of a George Mason University Center for Media and Public Affairs study of 249 election news stories that aired on “ABC World News Tonight,” “CBS Evening News,” “NBC Nightly News” and “Fox Special Report” (the first half hour) from June 8 to July 21 that had 72 percent of the on-air evaluations of Obama as negative, compared to 57 percent of the on-air evaluations of Republican John McCain being judged as negative. Of note is that the negative coverage came at a time when Obama was much more publicly visible than McCain, with 120 stories running on the four network news shows in the time frame analyzed by the Center, compared to the 80 stories that ran on McCain during the same time frame.
I’m not sure to what to make of what would seem to be a wide gulf between perception and reality. The first thing that comes to mind is that maybe there’s something to say about the old axiom about how it doesn’t matter what they say about you as long as they spell your name right.
The other explanation seems more plausible to me – that the Republican attack machine that has been selling the American public for the past 40 years on the notion that the news media is biased toward Democrats has obviously won the battle when two-thirds of Americans will tell pollsters that they think that media coverage that is two-thirds negative toward a Democratic Party presidential candidate is biased toward said candidate.
In addition to the question on the “love affair” between the media and the Obama candidacy, another question in the Sacred Heart poll asked respondents who they thought was getting the more favorable coverage from the media. Not surprisingly, given the numbers on the “love affair” question, 67.9 percent of those surveyed said they believe Obama is getting the more favorable coverage, with 11.1 percent saying McCain is getting the more favorable coverage, 14.8 percent saying the coverage seems equal to them, and 6.3 percent saying they’re not sure.
That unsure number is similar to the unsure number on the “love affair” question – which registered at 8.6 percent.
“The unsure or the don’t-know folks have been monitoring the media across the country, national, local, state, for many, many years, and they’ve come to some conclusions about whether the media is biased, whether they have their favorites, so the number of don’t-knows and unsures has diminished over time because they have come to some conclusions over the years that the media sometimes does have favorites,” Lindsley said.
“What that tells us is that huge amounts of people have come to that conclusion, and they actually see that there is media bias in favor of coverage for one candidate over the other. Those that teach politics will tell you that this will all change after the conventions are over, and everyone will be scrutinized about equally. But time will tell,” Lindsley said.