A comprehensive analysis of every evening news report by the NBC, ABC and CBS television networks on Barack Obama since he came to national prominence concludes coverage of the Illinois senator has “bordered on giddy celebration of a political ‘rock star’ rather than objective newsgathering.”
The new study by the Media Research Center, which tracks bias in the media, is summarized on the organization’s website, where the full report also has been published. It reveals that positive stories about Obama over that time outnumbered negative stories 7-1, and significant controversies such as Obama’s relationship with a convicted Chicago man have been largely ignored.
Rich Noyes, the research director for the MRC, told WND Obama has “always received very positive press from the national media,” and that was a “huge boost to anyone seeking a national political career.”
That’s contrary to the normal “default position” for reporters of being slightly cynical and a little skeptical, he said. It is “not the normal professional approach you see in journalists,” he said.
Noyes said the results imply that the Democratic National Convention in Denver next week, where Obama is expected to be nominated and has scheduled an acceptance speech in the city’s 75,000-seat football stadium, will generate much media praise for the candidate.
If Obama is described by the media repeatedly as the historic first black to carry a political party’s nomination for president while presumptive GOP candidate Sen. John McCain is just a Republican, that would give Obama an advantage, he said.
The MRC said it located every story referencing Obama on ABC’s World News, the CBS Evening News and NBC Nightly News “from the time Obama emerged on the national stage.”
“The three evening news broadcasts may not be able to tout the high ratings of a generation ago, but together averaged more than 23 million combined viewers from January through early June of this year, far more than their cable news competitors,” the MRC said.
A total of 1,365 news stories and interviews offered “at least some discussion” of Obama, and 40 percent focused exclusively on Obama.
NBC aired 490 stories, ABC 464 and CBS had 411.
Brent Bozell, president of the MRC, said in a news release accompanying the report the bottom line issue for journalism is that the Big Three networks, “had a horse in this year’s Democratic primary race.”
He also credited the three networks with providing Obama’s “margin of victory” over fellow Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Hillary Clinton.
“The press fixated their infatuated gazes on Sen. Obama, and afforded him the crucial coverage and support he needed to win,” Bozell said.
The study noted Obama’s victory over Clinton was by 41,622 votes out of 35 million, one-tenth of a percentage point.
But it said the networks provided Obama with 462 positive stories during the studied time frame, to just 70 that were critical, and Obama got “his best press when it mattered most, as he debuted on the national scene.
All of the networks lavished him with praise when he was the keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and did not produce a single negative story about Obama (out of 81 total reports) prior to the start of his presidential campaign in 2007, the study said.
As important as the positive spin the MRC found, “the networks downplayed or ignored major Obama gaffes and scandals. Obama’s relationship with convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko was the subject of only two full reports (one each on ABC and NBC) and mentioned in just 15 other stories. CBS and NBC also initially downplayed controversial statements from Obama’s longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright, but heavily praised Obama’s March 18 speech on race relations.”
Even when the networks were giving Obama his worst publicity, they still offered two positive stories about him for every critical report, the MRC said.
Tellingly, they referred to Obama as “rock star, “rising star,” or “superstar” 29 times in four years, describing him as “liberal” only 14 times.
“Perhaps if he had faced serious journalistic scrutiny instead of media cheerleading, Barack Obama might still have won his party’s nomination. But the tremendously positive coverage that the networks bestowed upon his campaign was of incalculable value,” the report said.
“The early celebrity coverage helped make Obama a nationally-known figure with a near-perfect media image. The protectiveness that reporters showed during the early primaries made it difficult for his rivals to effectively criticize him. And when it came to controversies such as the Wright affair, network reporters acted more as defenders than as journalists in an adversarial relationship. If the media did not actually win the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama, they surely made it a whole lot easier,” the report said.
The report said the bias the MRC uncovered also has not been lost on Americans.
“The Pew Research Center surveyed about 1,000 adults in late May and reported that ‘far more Americans believe that the press coverage has favored Barack Obama than think it has favored Hillary Clinton,’ even with 35 percent of Democrats seeing ‘a pro-Obama bias,'” the report said.
A Rasmussen survey in July found nearly half of voters believe most reporters try to help Obama with their reporting.
The report cited instances such as when MSNBC’s Chris Matthews said when he was listening to Obama, “I felt this thrill going up my leg. I mean, I don’t have that too often.”
During the 2004 DNC, then-NBC anchor Tom Brokaw said of Obama: “His national debut is getting rave reviews … This blessed young father of two is the son of a Kenyan working-class man and a white Midwestern mother. Both his parents are gone, but the lessons of their love are not.”
Conversely, Brokaw said the Republican keynoter that year, Democratic Sen. Zell Miller, was “torching his party and its ticket.”
“Obama in 2007 had the luxury of launching his presidential campaign having never once been the subject of a negative evening news story,” the report said.
Significantly, when Obama claimed his parents “got together” because of “what happened in Selma,” ABC and NBC ignored the fact that Obama was born in August 1961 and Selma’s civil rights march happened three months later.
Later when a Clinton campaign surrogate suggested Obama’s admissions of using cocaine could be exploited in a general election, the networks called out the Clinton campaign for its “dirty trick.” That contrasted to eight years earlier, when candidate George W. Bush was pushed aggressively to reveal whether he might have used cocaine.
“If the media did not actually win the Democratic nomination for Barack Obama, they surely made his road to the White House a whole lot smoother,” the report concluded.