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By Stephen J. Farnsworth and Roland Schatz

How hard has Fox News been on President Obama? Tougher than Hezbollah’s television news outlet, even during a new president’s “media honeymoon.”

Al-Manar, the Lebanon-based television outlet linked to what the U.S. government has long designated as a terrorist organization, aired notably less criticism than Fox News during Obama’s first 18 months in office, according to a new study by Media Tenor, Ltd., a nonpartisan provider of international content analysis.

By Stephen J. Farnsworth and Roland Schatz

How hard has Fox News been on President Obama? Tougher than Hezbollah’s television news outlet, even during a new president’s “media honeymoon.”

Al-Manar, the Lebanon-based television outlet linked to what the U.S. government has long designated as a terrorist organization, aired notably less criticism than Fox News during Obama’s first 18 months in office, according to a new study by Media Tenor, Ltd., a nonpartisan provider of international content analysis.

Fox News’ Special Report aired 17,008 statements about Obama during 2009 and another 5,717 statements about the new president during the first six months of 2010. By subtracting the percentage of negative statements from positive ones, Media Tenor found that Fox’s reports on the new president were 14 percent net negative in 2009 and 16 percent net negative during the first six months of 2010.

For Al-Manar, which aired 2,605 statements relating to the new president during that 18- month period, reports on Obama were six percent net positive in 2009 and four percent net negative during the first six months of 2010, notably more upbeat than Fox News during both periods.

Fox News also was more critical than any of the other four Arabic language media outlets analyzed in this project – Al-Jazeera, the region’s dominant broadcaster; Al-Arabiyah, linked to the Saudi royal family; Nile News, based in Egypt; and the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Likewise, Fox News was harsher than a European news group, comprised of two United Kingdom and two German broadcasters, and the evening newscasts of ABC, CBS and NBC.

Al-Jazeera, so often criticized in U.S. political discourse for being anti-American, provided reports on the new president that were 18 percent net positive in tone during 2009 and two percent net negative in tone during the first six months of 2010. In fact, the often-maligned Al-Jazeera was the most positive of the 13 television news outlets examined for 2009.

The study challenges claims so often made in the U.S. about hostile media in the Middle East region. As a whole, the five Arabic language broadcasters were more positive about Obama during both periods than either the U.S. or European media group.

ABC, CBS and NBC were on balance negative towards Obama during those 18 months, making them – like Fox - more critical of Obama than Al-Manar. On NBC’s Nightly News, for example, coverage of Obama was two percent net negative during 2009 and six percent net negative during the first six months of 2010. While it was not positive, the tone on NBC was a far cry from the harsher treatment Obama received at the hands of Fox News.

U.S. news on the domestic networks tends to be more critical of presidents than international news for three reasons: differences in the topics that interest domestic and international audiences, the traditionally adversarial approach U.S. journalists bring to their work, and the difficulty foreign reporters have in getting through to policy makers.

U.S. television news provides far more granular coverage of the daily slog of the president’s legislative priorities in Washington than foreign reporters would. There simply isn’t all that much interest abroad in the latest comments from U.S. House Republican leaders, for example.

But not all was sweetness and light with Al-Manar’s coverage of the White House. The comparison with Fox News was reversed during the first 18 months of George W. Bush’s second term. Coverage of the former president on Al-Manar was 19 percent net negative during the period between January 2005 and June 2006, as compared to five percent net negative coverage of Bush on Fox News.

Above all, our book demonstrates that what the Arabic media are saying about the US government is very different than what many in the US think the media in the region are saying.

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Stephen J. Farnsworth is professor of political science and international affairs at the University of Mary Washington and Roland Schatz is president of Media Tenor, Ltd. They are co-authors, along with S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University, of "The Global President: International Media and the U.S. Government," published in August by Rowman & Littlefield.

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