Project for Excellence in Journalism
Even before allegations of sexual misconduct, coverage of GOP presidential hopeful Herman Cain had become increasingly negative, according to a new study.

It got worse last week following news that two women had settled with the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990s after reporting sexual misconduct by Cain, the trade group's president at the time.

Coverage of Cain has been increasingly negative over the last six months, according to PEJ tracking.

Last week was "the third consecutive one in which negative assertions of Cain in the press outnumbered positive," as journalists began vetting the former Godfather's Pizza CEO.

The study looked at 11,500 media outlets, including the smaller subset that PEJ typically tracks for its weekly census. The analysis saw a difference in the coverage of the "elite" smaller subset and the broader group.

First, when the media narrative about a candidate shifts, the elite media tend to reflect the change more quickly. The broad spectrum of news outlets, in turn, tend to follow by about two weeks. And when the tone in the broader spectrum of news outlets shifts, the difference between positive and negative assertions about a candidate becomes even more pronounced there, a kind of amplifying echo effect across the media spectrum, in which matters become less nuanced.


  • Coverage of Michele Bachmann in "elite" media became less positive in August, then became more negative in broader media coverage in September.
  • Stories about Rick Perry became more negative in the "elite" group in September, then the broader media coverage followed in October.

Not only does the broad media follow the elite, but it intensifies their effect.

If the pattern seen before between elite and broad media recurs now, the tone of coverage about Cain would become even more negative in the broader spectrum of media.

Related: Carl Cannon disagrees with Cain's media critique. He writes, “Any reporter who doesn’t think sexual harassment is a legitimate area of inquiry ought to turn in his press pass to a younger, hungrier reporter and become a food critic or travel writer. Examining how Herman Cain treated the women at the restaurant association is exactly the role of the press. Most conservatives know this, but they have issues with the media.” (Real Clear Politics)