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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

‘Liberal Media’ Myth Shredded…Again

This item by J.P. Green was originally published on October 17, 2011.
Ah, some new data rendering the myth of the ‘liberal media’ into a pile of rubble. As Politico’s Keach Hagey reports on a new Pew Research study of “11,500 news outlets — including news websites and transcripts of radio and television broadcasts, at both the local and national levels — as well as hundreds of thousands of blogs”:

Sarah Palin put an end to her possible presidential candidacy this month with a familiar parting critique: President Barack Obama has an unfair advantage as a candidate because he’s got “about 90 percent of the media still there in his back pocket.”
…But a study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that, in the past five months, the reverse has actually been true: Obama has received the most unremittingly negative press of any of the presidential candidates by a wide margin, with negative assessments outweighing positive ones by four to one.
Pew found that just 9 percent of the president’s coverage was positive, while 34 percent was negative — a stark contrast to the 32 percent positive coverage and 20 percent negative that it found Texas Gov. Rick Perry, the most covered Republican, received.
“His 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.

The wingnuttiest Republicans got plenty of positive coverage, as Pew reports:

The top four most favorably covered candidates, the study found, were all tea party favorites: Perry was followed by Palin, with 31 percent positive coverage and 22 percent negative; Michele Bachmann, with 31 percent positive coverage and 23 percent negative; and Herman Cain, with 28 percent positive coverage and 23 percent negative…Mitt Romney’s positive and negative coverage were almost in a dead heat at 26 percent and 27 percent, respectively.

Of course there is always a cautionary note with this kind of data. Some publications carry a lot more weight than others, as do some stories. Associated Press stories, for example, tend to appear in hundreds of newspapers. Hagey quotes one AP story that put a negative spin even on the killing of bin Laden:

A nation surly over rising gas prices, stubbornly high unemployment and nasty partisan politics poured into the street to wildly cheer President Barack Obama’s announcement that Osama bin Laden, the world’s most wanted man, had been killed by U.S. forces after a decadelong manhunt. The outcome could not have come at a better time for Obama, sagging in the polls as he embarks on his reelection campaign.

Hagey goes on to show that, despite negative stories in the “liberal” media, Perry and Palin have gotten pretty positive coverage, according to the Pew data (Gingrich not so good). Ron Paul has done well on the blogosphere, but not as well in the MSM, while Herman Cain’s coverage has perked up considerably. Hagen quotes Newsweek analyst Jonathan Alter:

…Over the last 2½ years, Obama never got a honeymoon, if you actually look back into the early days of his presidency. He got very positive press on the first day, and he’s been in the scrum ever since…The truth about the American media is that we have gone, over the last 15 years, from something that could accurately be called a dominant liberal media — through the period of American liberalism, from the end of World War II to the founding of Fox News in 1996 — to a dominant conservative media in this country.

Moreover, President Obama is taking plenty of heat from the left flank inside his party, so the cumulative criticism is cited by both the left and right as proof of his growing unpopularity. Yet he still does much better in opinion polls than the Republican Party and surprisingly well in head-to-head horse race polls, considering the current economic situation.
Hagen closes with an inconclusive discussion about whether it is good strategy to attack the media for bias. But what remains clear is that conservative whining about ‘liberal media bias’ won’t find any verification in the best data out there.

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