Presidential candidates: Love ’em and Lehman

October 22, 2008

Media coverage of the U.S. presidential race has not so much cast Democratic candidate Barack Obama in a favorable light as it has portrayed Republican opponent John McCain in a negative one.

That’ s the verbatim conclusion of a new report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that analyzes the way the press has covered the campaign.

The report shows that negative stories about Arizona Sen. McCain has been decidedly unfavorable and has worsened over time, with negative stories about him outnumbering favorable Obama stories by more than three to one.

That and many more interesting details are available in the 35-page report, but what caught our attention, being a business-oriented news service, was a graph charting the tone of press coverage devoted to both candidates and how it changed after the bankruptcy filing of investment bank Lehman Brothers.

When Lehman collapsed, the percentage of negative stories about Obama plunged from 30 percent that week in September to just under 10 percent a week later. It scooted back up to 45 percent by early October and has been down again since then. Negative stories about McCain eased to 50 percent from… well, just a bit over 50 percent. Since then it’s surged to nearly 70 percent.

After Lehman collapsed, the reported noted that McCain tried to seize the initiative on the economic crisis.

According to the report:

In doing so, he became a dominant actor in the campaign drama, generating more coverage than any other presidential or vice presidential candidate for the first time in the general election season.

But as McCain did so, the media narrative about him grew increasingly negative.

There’s no doubt numerous factors could haveĀ affected the tone of the media’s campaign coverage, but it looks like Lehman’s collapse had at least some effect, at least according to the PEJ’s data. What do you think?

– Photo credit: Reuters/Jim Young (McCain and Obama at the 2008 Alfred E. Smith dinner)


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While there is no doubt that media bias is a real factor out there, it really is also possible that negative stories rise about candidates who have more negative attributes, run a more negative campaign, and have generally made more mistakes or pursued bad policies.

Sometimes if it looks like a duck….

Posted by Tom | Report as abusive

I agree to some degree about it being about the economy and Lehman’s problems. But I also thnik proplr are tired of the lies. We all know we need to make changes. Obama/Biden are looking to the future. They want to rebuilt us. McCain/Palin want us to stay in war in Iraq. We need to get Bin Laden. McCain doesn’t want to do that. He wants to keep the oil contracts going in Iraq. We aren’t stupid Mr McCain, shame on you for knowing it and still wanting to keep our kids there and not going after what we started.

Posted by limbo | Report as abusive

First – If McCain were running a more negative campaign then there would be more negative stories about Obama, not McCain.

Second – People are tired of the lies, unfortunately – both candidates lie.

Third – These stories greatly impact how people view someone. If there are two people, who both have good and bad attributes, and all you know is what I tell you about them. If I tell you the good things about one and the bad things about the other, you are going to have a skewed perspective about them both.

If you want to know about the potential presidents then you need to listen to the media from different sources (liberal and conservative) and take what they say, do some research, and find, well, as close to the truth as you can get. It isn’t easy, it is time consuming, but if you really want to know who you are voting for that is what you have to do.

Posted by IMOH | Report as abusive