April 27, 2009
Contact: Donald Rieck
The media have given President Obama more coverage than George W. Bush and Bill Clinton combined and more positive coverage than either received at this point in their presidencies, according to a new study by researchers at George Mason and Chapman Universities. But the study also finds that Mr. Obama’s positive media image hasn’t precluded heavy criticism of his policies.During his first 50 days in office, the three broadcast network evening news shows devoted 1021 stories lasting 27 hours 44 minutes to Barack Obama’s presidency. The daily average of seven stories and over 11 minutes of airtime represents about half of the entire newscasts. By contrast, at this point in their presidencies George W. Bush had received 7 hours 42 minutes and Bill Clinton garnered 15 hours 2 minutes of coverage, for a combined total airtime five hours less than Mr. Obama’s.
The networks varied in their attention to the Obama administration. CBS led the coverage with 365 stories and 10 hours 46 minutes of airtime, followed by NBC with 327 stories and 9 hours 38 minutes, and ABC with 329 stories and 7 hours 20 minutes. Thus, CBS has given more coverage to the Obama administration than all three networks combined gave to the first 50 days of George W. Bush’s presidency.
In addition, the first half hour of Fox News “Special Report” (which most closely resembles the broadcast network newscasts) devoted 10 hours 24 minutes to the Obama administration, nearly as much airtime as CBS gave him. And the New York Times devoted 115 front-page stories running 3385 column inches, the equivalent of over 28 full pages of text, to the Obama presidency.
Mr. Obama has received not only more press but also better press than his immediate predecessors. On the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news, fifty-eight percent of all evaluations of the president and his policies have been favorable, and 42 percent were unfavorable. CMPA’s previous studies of network news found that George W. Bush received only 33 percent positive evaluations by sources and reporters during the first 50 days of his administration in 2001, and Bill Clinton received only 44 percent positive evaluations during his first ten weeks (70 days) in office in 1993. (As noted above, these figures are based on judgments by reporters and sources not affiliated with either political party.)
The three networks have evaluated Mr. Obama very similarly – 57% positive comments on ABC, 58% positive on CBS, and 61% positive on NBC. But he fared far better in New York Times stories, where nearly three out of four evaluative comments (73%) by sources and reporters were favorable. And he fared far worse on Fox News, where only one out of eight such comments (13%) were favorable. Examples:
Positive Example: “I was blown away by President Obama’s grasp of the subject. How he connected the dots. How he answered the questions without any script.” -- George Stephanopoulos, ABC, March 5
Positive Example: “President Obama has done more in one week to reduce oil dependence and global warming than George Bush did in eight years.” -- Environmentalist, New York Times, Jan. 26
Negative Example: “The [employment] numbers the Obama administration is throwing around are absolutely inaccurate… a gross exaggeration.” -- Economist, Fox, Feb. 20
While Mr. Obama’s personal qualities and leadership abilities have drawn mostly praise from the mainstream media, his policies have not fared so well. On the broadcast networks fewer than two out of five evaluative soundbites (39%) praised his policies and proposals. ABC’s policy coverage was relatively balanced (48% positive), while source and reporter comments ran over two to one negative at both CBS (32% positive) and NBC (31% positive).
TV news coverage of the president’s economic policies, which focused mainly on the economic stimulus and the various proposed and enacted industry bailouts, garnered support from only 37% of evaluative soundbites. He fared better on domestic issues other than the economy, where praise for his health care proposals and new stem cell research policy brought balanced coverage overall (50% positive). But only one out of four comments (24%) praised his foreign policy decisions, including the war on terror.
Negative Example: “The Obama administration is paying too much money to the wrong people.” – Economist, CBS, March 20
The New York Times policy coverage, while less positive than its personal coverage of Mr. Obama, was about evenly divided between praise and criticism (48% positive). Although similar to the broadcast networks in its treatment of economic policy (40% positive), the Times portrayed other domestic policy areas relatively favorably (60% positive), and its 39% positive coverage of foreign policy domains was still more favorable than the networks’ 24% positive coverage.
Positive Example: Mr. Obama’s actions “reaffirmed American values and are a ray of light after eight long, dark years.” – ACLU executive, New York Times, Jan. 22
By contrast, Fox News coverage was even more negative toward Mr. Obama’s policies than the Times was positive. Only one out of twelve evaluative soundbites (8%) praised any of the president’s policies, including six percent positive judgments on the economic matters, seven percent on other domestic issues, and 17% on foreign affairs.
Negative Example: “It’s easy to spend someone else’s money…. It’s not only irresponsible, it’s unethical.” President, Peterson Foundation, Fox, February 20
Across all outlets, the ten most frequently debated issues were: 1. Economic stimulus -- 287 stories; 2. Industry bailouts – 114 stories; 3. Budget/deficit – 74 stories; 4. Terrorism -- 64 stories; 5. Healthcare – 61 stories; 6. Taxes – 45 stories; 7. Economic conditions – 38 stories; 8. Afghanistan – 31 stories; 9. Defense – 16 stories; 10. Iraq – 12 stories.