Still Thrilled by Obama
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In less than a year, Americans will go to the polls to choose a new President. The stakes in November 2012 will be high: voters will either reward Barack Obama’s left-wing approach, or they will reinforce the conservative message of the 2010 midterm elections. As both sides make their case over the next 12 months, the media will be their battleground.
Four years ago, the broadcast networks were swept up in enthusiasm for Obama’s historic “rock star” candidacy. Now, after three years of high unemployment, low growth, super-sized government and record deficits, how are those networks covering Obama’s re-election campaign, and the candidates vying to replace him?
To find out, a team of Media Research Center analysts examined every Campaign 2012 segment on the three broadcast network weekday morning programs from January 1 to October 31, 2011. Our analysts used the same methodology we employed four years ago to review the campaign coverage on those same programs for the equivalent time period (January 1 through October 31, 2007).
These shows reach a sizeable audience of potential voters: ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s The Early Show and NBC’s Today averaged more than 12.5 million viewers in October, many times more than the combined audience for the Fox News Channel, MSNBC and CNN at the same hours (about 1.5 million viewers).
Unlike the networks’ evening newscasts, the two- and four-hour long morning shows can spend far more time delving into a candidate’s record. And unlike the networks’ Sunday morning shows, the morning news shows are not geared toward political junkies, but rather the everyday voters that campaigns seek to reach. Consequently, the broadcast morning shows are a prime battleground in the candidates’ competition for media attention and positive coverage.
For this study, our analysts tabulated the total amount of coverage given to each of the candidates, including all field reports, interviews and brief news items. Then they undertook a more detailed examination of the interviews conducted with either the candidates or their designated surrogates, tallying the airtime and the ideological orientation of the questions posed.
The results show none of the Republican candidates received the celebrity “rock star” coverage meted out to the top Democratic candidates (Obama, Hillary Clinton and John Edwards) four years ago. Instead, the networks highlighted perceived controversies and gaffes among the candidates. In interviews, the morning hosts hit the Republicans with questions drawn largely from a liberal agenda.
And, in spite of the terrible economic situation, Barack Obama was still treated mostly as a celebrity, with the networks providing the President and his political team a forum to trash their competitors, but offering relatively little scrutiny of the incumbent’s record.