A new study from Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism titled "The Media Primary" found that President Barack Obama got almost four times as much negative press as positive press over the 23 weeks studied. The authors of the study examined 11,500 sources from May 2 to October 9, 2011.
One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1. Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the president positive in tone...
As for Barack Obama, 9% of the news coverage about him over the last five months has registered as positive while 34% has been negative and 57% has been neutral or largely straight news accounting of events. In each of the 23 weeks studied, his negative coverage exceeded his positive coverage by more than 20 percentage points. And in none of those weeks did his negative coverage fall below 30%. The tone of Obama’s coverage on blogs, while still overwhelmingly negative, was slightly better—14% positive and 36% negative.
This week NPR's On The Media had a segment on the study with co-host Brooke Gladstone, The Media, the President, and the Horse Race, where she discussed the results with Mark Jurkowitz, the associate director for the Project for Excellence in Journalism. They asked Jurkowitz about Obama's 9 percent positive news coverage versus his 34 percent negative coverage.
Jurkowitz said those numbers took the researchers by surprise, but once they investigated it started to make sense. Between the Republican presidential debates and abysmal economy, Obama is being hammered in the news daily.
The biggest single story in this five-month period that we were looking at is the United States economy. It filled about one-fifth of all the coverage we look at. By and large, the economic story has been an unrelentingly negative one in those months. And those stories, which are linking the president to a bad economy, put all those things together and you get this almost four to one ratio.
But, I think the negative coverage isn't solely driven by the U.S. economy. Rather, it seems our 'liberal' media will not give much positive press to the president. Case in point the killing of Osama bin Laden and the coverage of the president by the press. Jurkowitz said:
One of the oddest things we found — and this may be illustrative of the problem the President has in the media — we actually begin this survey on May 2nd. That's one day after the killing of Osama bin Laden. We actually expected, at least from the week of May 2nd through May 8th, that the President would have a positive narrative.
Well, as it turns out, he didn't. He still had a negative narrative. And the stories said things like, Americans, disgruntled by a bad economy, soured by rampant partisanship in Washington and uncertain about their own economic prospects, cheered the killing of Osama bin Laden last night.
Gladstone found that amusing. She concluded the segment with a final question, "What about the media's liberal bias?"
We look at the numbers, we don't try and deduce what the motivations might be for journalists. We tell people what we found, which is if there was some idea that perhaps the media is in the tank to Barack Obama, then obviously his numbers would belie that. If there would have been some expectation that the media, being part of the establishment, would probably have been more receptive to a traditional establishment Republican candidate, Romney's coverage does not suggest that, particularly when measured against the coverage of Perry or Bachmann, conservative candidates aligned closely with the Tea Party.
So I would say, based on what we’ve seen right now, there are some myths that probably could be put to rest.
Gladstone observed: "From what I'm seeing right now, the mainstream media are Tea Partiers."