Obama did in fact enjoy a 'media honeymoon' with New York Times, says study

SaintPetersBlog | Politics & Policy

Stephen J. Farnsworth and S. Robert Lichter used content analysis, "a technique that allows researchers to classify statements objectively and systematically according to explicit rules and clear criteria," to examine front-page stories in the New York Times during President Obama's first year in office.

Their conclusion caught Peter Schorsch's eye. "The first and perhaps most important finding is that The New York Times provided Obama with a presidential honeymoon," the study says, and notes that Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, and Reagan were not as lucky. (Farnsworth and Lichter didn't study George H.W. Bush, not because he was forgettable, but because his accession didn't follow a partisan transfer of power.)

We also suspect that this influential paper's coverage helped shape the coverage of the new administration by other news outlets, particularly in these times of tight media budgets. Media outlets with reduced resources might be more inclined to shape their news budget—and news perspective—around the latest reports in The New York Times.

Also interesting: What the researchers call "personality coverage" of Obama on Fox News was "largely positive" during his first year in office. Huh. Farnsworth and Lichter have studied such media honeymoons before. Before Watergate, "Newspaper and television reporters, perhaps anxious to endear themselves to new White House staffers who could become regular sources, provided a new president and his team a brief settling-in period of relatively favorable news coverage." One of their suggestions for future researchers is this:

wait for the next partisan transfer of power to see whether Obama's favorable The New York Times coverage was the start of a revived honeymoon trend over the longer term or a one-time suspension of the decades-long norm of highly critical coverage of new presidents in the nation's most influential newspaper, a suspension that might be explained by the depth of the fiscal crisis in 2009 or the transformational nature of Obama's election.

The president's second year in office, the study notes, "has been quite different from his first."

  • Andrew Beaujon

    Andrew Beaujon reported on the media for Poynter from 2012 to 2015. He was previously arts editor at TBD.com and managing editor of Washington City Paper. He's the author of the 2006 book "Body Piercing Saved My Life," about Christian rock and evangelical Christian culture.


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