Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pew study shows journalists may be dropping ball on election

By NCC Staff     Used with Permission of the National Constitution Center

An extensive Pew Research Center study shows the current presidential election is extremely negative in the media, partially because journalists have stopped filtering out attack messages.

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism study is called “The Master Character Narratives in Campaign 2012,” and it looks at news reports on President Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from 50 news outlets over 10 weeks.

Link: Read the Entire Study

“More of what the public hears about candidates also now comes from the campaigns themselves and less from journalists acting as independent reporters or interpreters of who the candidates are,” the Center said in a statement explaining its findings.

The pool of 50 news outlets includes the left (Huffington Post, MSNBC), the right (Fox News and Rush Limbaugh) and a lot of centrist news sources.

Still, the study shows growing signs that journalists are backing away from challenging the candidates and their partisanship, which has led to the most negative media coverage of a campaign since 2004.

“Journalists themselves now play a smaller role in shaping these media narratives than they once did. Journalists are the source for about half as much of the statements about the candidates as was the case 12 years go,” says Pew.

“The campaigns, by contrast, have come to play an ever larger role in shaping these narratives. The candidates and their partisan allies are the source for nearly a third more of the personal narrative about the candidates than in 2000,” the group says.

The Pew researchers also look at narratives, or stereotypes, that are presented about each candidate in the media.

The top narratives about President Obama are about his failing economic policies and the theory that the economy would be worse if he hadn’t been elected in 2008. Those two narratives make up about half the reporting on Obama, with 36 percent of all media reports on Obama refuting claims he has managed the economy well.

In the first week of August, attacks on Obama’s economic record made up 43 percent of media reports about him.

As for Romney, the biggest narratives are that the former businessman is an unfeeling capitalist, an out-of-touch elitist, and a dull, bumbling campaigner.

Attacks on Romney’s campaign style jumped markedly in early August, to 20 percent of all coverage, compared with 2 percent in early June.

Who Is Reporting or Telling the Candidate Narrative

Campaigns and Surrogates     48%

Journalists                             19%

Experts                                  10%

Talk Show Hosts                      8%

Polls                                        6%

Voters                                     5%

Other                                      4%

Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism

The data also show the deep division between rival cable news rivals Fox News and MSNBC on the candidates.

About 14 percent of Fox News reports about Obama were positive, while 11 percent of MSNBC reports about Romney were positive.

However, about 20 percent of Fox News reports were about claims he was an “unfeeling venture capitalist.” And about 20 percent of MSNBC reports cast Obama as a poor guardian of the economy.

Pew also says journalists were more willing to offer their own reporting on Romney than Obama. About 22 percent of media mentions about Romney came from reporters or journalists, with just 15 percent of Obama mentions came from journalists.

A little over 50 percent of reports and statements came directly from the candidates or their surrogates.

The study also found that major Internet news sites have the most reporting and statements directly from campaigns and surrogates, with 58 percent of statements about the candidates coming from those two sources.

And in what the Pew Center called “striking,” the two most positive messages coming from the campaigns are being ignored in the media.

Only 3 percent of media coverage is on the core statement of Obama’s messaging: that he is a person who cares about other Americans. For Romney, only 8 percent of messages were about his ability to fix the economy.

Not surprisingly, conservative TV and radio talks shows had 93 percent negative coverage of President Obama, while 89 percent of Romney coverage on liberal talks shows was negative.

Among its other conclusions, researchers said the lack of reports from journalists could be due to budget cutbacks at media outlets.

But the dominance of commentary from candidates and their surrogates was a noticeable change from the 2000 campaign.

“One conclusion, however, is unavoidable: Journalists to an increasing degree are ceding control of what the public learns in elections to partisan voices,” the study said. “Less of what we are hearing is coming from the press as an independent intermediary, filtering or assessing political rhetoric. And to that degree, the press is acting more as an enabler or conduit and less as an autonomous reportorial source.”