Friday, May 16, 2008

Debunking the myth about Obama's 'soft' media coverage

Finally found time to blog. That is, a 15-minute break from transcribing interviews.

Recent news about Barack Obama's victory over Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party's nominee in the upcoming U.S. elections made me remind an interesting piece I found online about media's insistence to call Obama as the "black candidate". Do you agree with what the writer, James Burnett, said?

Barack Obama is white!
James Burnett
The Miami Herald
May 14, 2008

Getting ready for work this morning I channel surfed between CNN, Headline News, MSNBC, and FNC, and I heard no fewer than six talking heads refer to Obama as "African American" AKA black, and potentially "the first African American" president. To be fair, I've sipped that Kool-Aid once or twice and not thinking before I spoke or wrote, referred to Obama as a black candidate.

It is short-sighted and disingenuous for my elevated peers to keep referring to Obama as black or African American. He is biracial.

And while his skin color...and Clinton's gender, and McCain's age shouldn't matter in terms of their qualifications, how we address those characteristics should matter to you.

Read more here.

Speaking of the media coverage of Obama, here is a study on the media coverage of the top candidates conducted by the respected Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. Among other findings, the study belied the notion that Obama enjoyed the most positive media coverage, or that the media were "soft" on him than Clinton during the primaries. Compared to Obama, Clinton also received similar amount of positive coverage. Both also had similar amounts of negative coverage in the press.

Character and the Primaries of 2008
Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University
May 29, 2008

If campaigns for president are in part a battle for control of the master narrative about character, Democrat Barack Obama has not enjoyed a better ride in the press than rival Hillary Clinton, according to a new study of primary coverage by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

From January 1, just before the Iowa caucuses, through March 9, following the Texas and Ohio contests, the height of the primary season, the dominant personal narratives in the media about Obama and Clinton were almost identical in tone, and were both twice as positive as negative, according to the study, which examined the coverage of the candidates’ character, history, leadership and appeal—apart from the electoral results and the tactics of their campaigns.

The trajectory of the coverage, however, began to turn against Obama, and did so well before questions surfaced about his pastor Jeremiah Wright. Shortly after Clinton criticized the media for being soft on Obama during a debate, the narrative about him began to turn more skeptical—and indeed became more negative than the coverage of Clinton herself. What’s more, an additional analysis of more general campaign topics suggests the Obama narrative became even more negative later in March, April and May.

On the Republican side, John McCain, the candidate who quickly clinched his party’s nomination, has had a harder time controlling his message in the press. Fully 57% of the narratives studied about him were critical in nature, though a look back through 2007 reveals the storyline about the Republican nominee has steadily improved with time.

Other findings of the study included:
  • The year 2008 started off extremely well for Obama. Positive assertions commanded 77% of the narrative studied about him from January 1 -13. By March 9, the figure had dropped to 53%. During this time statements concerning his inexperience and youth more than doubled in prevalence.
  • The idea of Clinton as prepared to lead on Day One built steadily over time, reaching more than half of the assertions studied by mid-February. Despite this, over time likely Democratic voters came to think of Obama, more so than Clinton, as best prepared to lead the country—a sign that perhaps they forgive his inexperience in favor of change.
  • The dominant theme about McCain, that he may not be a true conservative, was established early in the coverage––evident in the first months of 2007—and has resonated as a concern even among those in his own party. As late as April 2008, more than a month after McCain has secured the party’s nomination, likely Republican voters were split in our surveys over whether he really is a true conservative.
  • The most common sources for these narratives were the campaign themselves—both the positive impressions candidates wanted to project about themselves and the negative images they wanted to suggest about their rivals. Fully 39% of the assertions studied came from the campaigns, notably higher than the 30% found in a similar study four years earlier, demonstrating the degree to which candidates directly influenced the coverage. Journalists were not far behind as a source of these master narratives (36%), though the results differed somewhat by candidate.
  • While differences by media were minimal, some did stand out. Network morning news is notable for the degree to which it offered an exceptionally positive personal impression of Hillary Clinton. Fully 84% of the assertions studied in those programs projected positive master narratives of the former first lady, some 20 percentage points more positive than about Obama. And on cable news, the three rival channels differed markedly from each other in their treatment of the candidates.
  • Looking beyond the master narratives about the candidates personally, coverage overall in 2008 has so far focused largely on the horse race. Fully 78% of the stories studied between January 1 and the first week of May have focused on political matters, such as who won the latest primary. By contrast, policy stories made up 7% of the stories, personal matters 7%, and the candidates’ public record, 2%. And few major storylines stand out.
Click here to read this well-researched study.

A CNN analysis on why Clinton's bid failed also reflected the notion that the media were favorably covering Obama compared with the coverage of the former First Lady.

Analysis: Why Clinton's bid failed
By Rebecca Sinderbrand
CNN Associate Political Editor
June 6, 2008

As media coverage of Clinton's candidacy shifted to reflect the new realities of the race, her campaign started to develop a hostility that permeated the entire organization and proved a distraction from far more daunting challenges.

At the top, former President Clinton publicly and privately railed against what he called "the most biased coverage in history," and both Clintons complained of what they believed to be a pervasive sexism dominating the campaign narrative.

On campaign conference calls, a new press skepticism to ever-evolving standards of electoral success was often met with outright antagonism from Clinton staffers.

Read more here.

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