Researchers at George Mason University in Virginia and Chapman University in Orange County conducted joint research regarding the TV evening news coverage of President Obama on the major broadcast outlets: ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox; the study also included the front page of The New York Times.
The results were released yesterday by The Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University.
The executive summary supports the headline that President Obama has attracted more coverage in his first hundred days than did Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush —combined— in theirs. And, although the majority of the coverage of the new President’s personal qualities and leadership has been favorable, the treatment of his proposals and policies have been considerably less enthusiastic.
During his first 50 days in office, the three broadcast network evening news shows devoted 1021 stories lasting 27 hours 44 minutes to Barack Obama’s presidency. The daily average of seven stories and over 11 minutes of airtime represents about half of the entire newscasts. By contrast, at this point in their presidencies George W. Bush had received 7 hours 42 minutes and Bill Clinton garnered 15 hours 2 minutes of coverage, for a combined total airtime five hours less than Mr. Obama’s.
The networks varied in their attention to the Obama administration. CBS led the coverage with 365 stories and 10 hours 46 minutes of airtime, followed by NBC with 327 stories and 9 hours 38 minutes, and ABC with 329 stories and 7 hours 20 minutes. Thus, CBS has given more coverage to the Obama administration than all three networks combined gave to the first 50 days of George W. Bush’s presidency.
In addition, the first half hour of Fox News “Special Report” (which most closely resembles the broadcast network newscasts) devoted 10 hours 24 minutes to the Obama administration, nearly as much airtime as CBS gave him. And the New York Times devoted 115 front-page stories running 3385 column inches, the equivalent of over 28 full pages of text, to the Obama presidency.
Mr. Obama has received not only more press but also better press than his immediate predecessors. On the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news, fifty-eight percent of all evaluations of the president and his policies have been favorable, and 42 percent were unfavorable. CMPA’s previous studies of network news found that George W. Bush received only 33 percent positive evaluations by sources and reporters during the first 50 days of his administration in 2001, and Bill Clinton received only 44 percent positive evaluations during his first ten weeks (70 days) in office in 1993. (As noted above, these figures are based on judgments by reporters and sources not affiliated with either political party.)
The three networks have evaluated Mr. Obama very similarly – 57% positive comments on ABC, 58% positive on CBS, and 61% positive on NBC. But he fared far better in New York Times stories, where nearly three out of four evaluative comments (73%) by sources and reporters were favorable. And he fared far worse on Fox News, where only one out of eight such comments (13%) were favorable.
While Mr. Obama’s personal qualities and leadership abilities have drawn mostly praise from the mainstream media, his policies have not fared so well. On the broadcast networks fewer than two out of five evaluative soundbites (39%) praised his policies and proposals. ABC’s policy coverage was relatively balanced (48% positive), while source and reporter comments ran over two to one negative at both CBS (32% positive) and NBC (31% positive).
TV news coverage of the president’s economic policies, which focused mainly on the economic stimulus and the various proposed and enacted industry bailouts, garnered support from only 37% of evaluative soundbites. He fared better on domestic issues other than the economy, where praise for his health care proposals and new stem cell research policy brought balanced coverage overall (50% positive). But only one out of four comments (24%) praised his foreign policy decisions, including the war on terror.