WASHINGTON — The presidential campaign of Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) was launched with the help of more positive press coverage than any other candidate — Republican or Democrat — running for the White House.
“While Hillary Clinton may have gotten the most press, she did not get the most favorable. That distinction, among major candidates, went to Barack Obama.” That’s a conclusion of a study conducted by Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy with the Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The study of 1,742 stories on the 2008 primary running between January and May of this year included reports in newspapers, online, network TV, cable news and liberal and conservative talk radio. The findings help explain a component of the Obama phenomena — how a lawmaker with two years in the Senate within a matter of months became a front-running White House contender.
Obama’s quick rise in national politics has been assisted by massive, mostly favorable coverage since the summer of 2004. Obama has even escaped being targeted in a negative television commercial. What’s interesting about this study is that for the first time, the extent of the Obama upbeat coverage has been quantified.
Obama had the most positive tone of coverage, 46.7 percent compared with chief rival Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-N.Y.) at 26.9 percent; Republicans Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, at 27.8 percent; and Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) at 12.4 percent.
While Obama was second to Clinton in coverage, his favorable treatment came from influential media. Newspaper stories were 70 percent positive; network morning news shows 58 percent positive and network evening news 55 percent positive.
Talk radio shows — liberal and conservative — provided negative coverage of Clinton.
On conservative shows, Clinton’s negative score was 86 percent compared with 55.6 for Obama and 80 for former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.).
On liberal shows, Obama and Edwards scored 100 percent positive coverage compared with 16.7 percent for Clinton.
Obama’s campaign benefitted from an extended honeymoon that is ending. The soaring trajectory has been drifting downward so that “by May, there were signs of trouble. The coverage had become far more neutral, with positive stories and negative more equally divided.”