A newly released study of the media shows that Barack Obama’s first 100 days in office have been unusually blessed by positive press coverage – 50 percent more favorable than coverage of the Clinton administration and nearly twice as glowing as the reports about George W. Bush.
The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 42 percent of news stories, editorials and op ed columns from a mix of seven national media sources have carried a positive tone about Obama in his first 100 days, compared to 27 percent for President Clinton and only 22 percent for President Bush in their initial “honeymoon” periods.
The full PEJ report also points out that the proportions of positive press coverage have been radically different for the presidents. Negative stories about Bush abounded in the media, outnumbering positive stories 28 percent to 22 percent – the rest deemed neutral. For Obama, however, the positive stories outdistance negative by a margin of two-to-one, 42 percent to 20 percent, respectively.
Even the nature of the news coverage has been different.
The study found the media focused primarily on Bush’s and Clinton’s policies and ideology, but with Obama, a significant percentage of the stories have been about his leadership, abilities, style and skill. The study found 44 percent of the stories have been about these areas of Obama’s character, while only 22 percent of Bush’s press coverage focused on such issues. Instead, 74 percent of press coverage on Bush – and 71 percent of Clinton coverage – focused on policy.
“In other words, the media has given us a heapin’ helping of fluff in [Obama's] first 100 days, and very little in specifics,” comments Ed Morrissey on the HotAir blog. “The media seems quite ‘enchanted’ with the new president, and this time it’s going to be tougher for them to dismiss the data that proves it.”
Beyond studying the seven major media outlets, identical to the list used for a similar study in 2001 – the New York Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, ABC World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News and PBS Newsour – the new study also examined press coverage in “a broader universe of media.”
In order to reflect “the more modern media culture of 2009,” according to the study overview, the PEJ ran separate numbers that included 49 other press outlets, examining news websites, regional and local newspapers, network morning news, National Public Radio and cable news, including Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and others.
In this expanded universe of media, Obama’s press coverage was still predominately positive: 37 percent deemed favorable to 23 percent negative, the rest considered neutral.
PEJ’s comparison of media coverage among seven national press outlets (left) vs. expanded universe of 49 outlets (right)
Other findings of the study included a discovered difference in how the various forms of coverage – news vs. opinion – were weighted among the presidents.
Obama’s treatment, the study found, has been more favorable than skeptical in both news coverage and on newspaper opinion pages. For Clinton, however, news coverage leaned toward the negative, while newspaper op eds and editorial offered favor. Bush received the opposite treatment, with news coverage leaning positive, while op ed and editorials studied were decidedly negative.
The numbers further show that Bush was unusually slammed by opinion pieces. Removing the editorials and Newsweek magazine from the coverage actually gives the former GOP president a net positive spin, with 24 percent of the news-only coverage favorable to 18 percent unfavorable. The overwhelming ratio of editorials, however, 46 percent negative to 18 percent positive, resulted in his final total being balanced toward the unfavorable.
Clinton and Obama have enjoyed nearly identical rates of praise in the editorials – each at approximately 40 percent positive to 26 percent negative – but negative news coverage during Clinton’s first 100 days pushed his numbers to a net negative as well.
The study also uncovered significant variations in how the different media sectors are covering the Obama presidency.
The most positive spin on Obama’s first 100 days came from newspapers and evening network television. Among cable news outlets, MSNBC and Fox News were vastly different in their portrayal of Obama, while CNN’s numbers paralleled the media’s overall average, positive perspective. Among the outlets, NPR and PBS offered the highest percentage of neutral stories.