Pew: ‘MSNBC was more negative in its treatment of Romney than Fox was of Obama’

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Between the last week of August and the third week of October, 38 percent of campaign coverage studied by Pew’s Project for Excellence in Journalism was “what is typically called horserace coverage, stories substantially concerned with the strategy and tactics of the campaign and the question of who was winning.” In 2008, 53 percent of the coverage during an analogous time period could be so characterized.

Interestingly, Mitt Romney’s campaign fared considerably worse in PEJ’s analysis of the “tone” of campaign coverage — until horse-race stories were removed. Then both his and President Obama’s campaign received essentially the same treatment from the press.

Obama got more positive coverage than Romney before the first debate — though the study notes that was mostly because Romney got so much bad press in September. After the first debate, “the coverage in effect reversed,” the study says. “In all, 20% of stories about Romney were favorable, 30% unfavorable, and 50% mixeda differential of 10 points to the negative. For Obama, 13% of stories were favorable, 36% unfavorable, and 50% mixed — a differential of 23 points.”

Horse-race coverage is always a hot topic in journalism, especially as elections approach, but it’s been especially so in the past week, as Politico’s Dylan Byers has asserted it’s more valuable than the poll-based journalism of FiveThirtyEight’s Nate Silver.

Coverage by platform

The most striking coverage differences compared to 2008 appear on cable TV and in newspapers. Pew finds that the ideological differences in 2012 coverage were “even more pronounced, and is no longer quite a mirror image. MSNBC was more negative in its treatment of Romney than Fox was of Obama, though both stand out significantly from the rest of the media studied.”

“This year, of the 259 segments studied about Romney during the eight-week period, just 3% were positive in nature while 71% were negative. Four years ago, 10% of MSNBC’s coverage about McCain was positive while 73% was negative.”

There was an important difference in newspaper coverage as well. Pew found that newspaper coverage of Obama shifted from 45 percent positive in 2008 to 70 percent mixed in 2012.

“These numbers also represent a significant change from 2008 when Obama enjoyed a large advantage in the tone of newspaper coverage over his rival John McCain,” Pew reports.

If you were wondering how some of the candidates’ individual tweets were received in various states, Twitter has compiled a map that lets you see just that.

Also Friday, Pew released a study showing that “48% of internet-using registered voters watch video news reports online about the election or politics.” Forty percent said they’d watched videos they’d discovered via social networks.

Related: Pew’s election coverage, bundled (Pew) | Romney, Obama narratives overwhelmingly negative as journalists lose control of campaign coverage | PEJ: Political coverage started to break Romney’s way in March

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  • Anonymous

    Why is “balance” the goal. If the the facts are simply more negative for one candidate, then so be it.

  • Anonymous

    Funny. I don’t remember anyone accusing Romney of Treason or murder on MSNBC. The same could not be said of FOX on Obama.

  • Jimmie D. Davis

    How, exactly, is one supposed to “balance out” the coverage of one candidate who says one thing one day and its opposite the next? How does one “balance out” a candidate who tells the most blatant lies of any candidate for president ever? This is one more stupid example of the false equivalency that allows one party to drag the other down to its level. If you are judging a contest in which truth is important and one side lies far more than the other side coverage will be out of balance. This is just another false variant of the Fox motto of “fair & balanced” that is neither. Rachel Maddow is the most fair anchor on any network. I have never seen her bully or otherwise mistreat a guest. But few Republicans will risk defending their lies on her show. Which should tell you all you need to know about both.