Report refutes 'media bias' claim from Clinton

Despite Hillary Clinton’s repeated claims to the contrary, her rival and front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination Barack Obama “has not enjoyed a better ride in the press” during the primary battles, according to a study.

Clinton and her campaign staff have been alleging unfavorable and sometimes hostile media attention while Obama has been given a pass. Clintonistas often cite this supposedly unfair treatment as a major reason she is not doing better in her run to be the nominee.

But a review of primary coverage conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard U. found that during the height of the primary season, “The dominant personal narratives in the media about Obama and Clinton were almost identical in tone.”

In general, both have gotten pretty good rides, it appears. The coverage under review included reports on the candidates’ character, history, leadership and appeal, and many of those reports were equally positive on both candidates.

Clinton’s and Obama’s attacks on each other have also gotten equal traction in the press. The study showed that the most common negative media take on Obama is that he is inexperienced, on Clinton that she represents the politics of the past.

If anything, Obama appears to have gotten roughed up in the media more than Clinton, at least in recent months.

“The trajectory of the coverage began to turn against Obama, and did so well before questions surfaced about his pastor Jeremiah Wright,” according to the researchers. “Shortly after Clinton criticized the media for being soft on Obama during a debate, the narrative about him began to turn more skeptical — and indeed became more negative than the coverage of Clinton herself.

“What’s more, an additional analysis of more general campaign topics suggests the Obama narrative became even more negative later in March, April and May,” the researchers continued.

While noting that Obama has had considerable success in “controlling his narrative” in media coverage — making sure he is identified as a representative of hope and change — the study’s authors also pointed out that “Clinton had just as much success as Obama in projecting one of her most important themes in the media, the idea that she is prepared to lead the country on ‘day one.’

“She has also had substantial success in rebutting the idea that she is difficult to like or is cold or distant, and much of that rebuttal came directly from journalists,” according to the researchers.

The candidate who has experienced the most trouble controlling his narrative has been presumptive GOP nominee John McCain. According to the study, almost 60% of stories about him during the primaries have been critical.

A companion survey included in the study also pointed out a possibly key discrepancy in how the three candidates are perceived. According to the survey, public perceptions of McCain and Obama “largely tracked with the tenor of the press coverage’s major narrative themes. With Hillary Clinton, however, the public seemed to have developed opinions about her that ran counter to the media coverage, perhaps based on a pre-existing negative disposition to her that unfolded over the course of the campaign.”

But the study concluded with some cautionary words for Obama and McCain — and their scriptwriters.

“Analysis suggests that both Obama and McCain are heading into the general election battle with less control over their personal messages than they might like. In many ways, the coverage of the campaign has been dominated by a series of small storylines or boomlets of coverage that so far have raised unresolved questions but not yet framed an overall storyline — Obama’s friendships and core ideology, the meaning of his promise of change; McCain’s core ideology, his relationship with lobbyists and a looming battle, largely quiet during the primaries, over the direction of the conduct of the war in Iraq.”

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