Study: Media Focused On Tactics Not Issues

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The New York Times

Study: Media Focused On Tactics Not Issues

by
Katharine Q. Seelye

The news media are more obsessed than ever with the horse-race aspects of the presidential campaign, according to a new study.

Despite the campaign's early start, the media have not been more reflective on the issues, the study said, but have focused on tactics and strategy.1029 06

The report - available at www.journalism.org - was conducted jointly by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center, and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy at the Kennedy School at Harvard.

It examined 1,742 stories that appeared from January through May in 48 news outlets.

The study also found that during that period, the media provided much more positive coverage of the Democratic presidential candidates than of the Republicans.

The study attributed that to overwhelmingly favorable coverage of Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., and overwhelmingly negative coverage of Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz.

Other highlights:

-- Almost two-thirds of all stories (print, television, radio and online) focused on the political aspects of the campaign, while only 1 percent focused on the candidates' public records.

-- Only 12 percent of stories seemed relevant to voters' decision-making; the rest were more about tactics and strategy.

-- Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., received the most coverage, but Obama received the most positive coverage (47 percent of stories about Obama were positive, compared with 27 percent for Clinton). Just 12 percent of stories about McCain were positive.

-- Elizabeth Edwards, wife of John Edwards, a Democrat, received more attention than 10 of the 19 candidates then in the race and nearly as much as her husband.

The campaign coverage has been sharply at odds with what the public says it wants, the study found, with voters eager to know more about the candidates' positions on issues and their personal backgrounds, more about lesser-known candidates and more about debates.

But the media is even more obsessed this time around with questions of tactics and strategy, despite what the study described as a "generational struggle" in both parties. Horse-race stories accounted for 63 percent of reports this year compared with what the study said was about 55 percent in 2000 and 2004.

"If American politics is changing," the study concluded, "the style and approach of the American press does not appear to be changing with it."

© 2007 The New York Times

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