Accuracy in Media

Deborah Howell, ombudsman and columnist for the Washington Post, takes it to the WaPo staff, arguing that their election articles focused mostly on “horse-race” stories and less on policy.

“The count was lopsided, with 1,295 horse-race stories and 594 issues stories. The Post was deficient in stories that reported more than the two candidates trading jabs; readers needed articles, going back to the primaries, comparing their positions with outside experts’ views. There were no broad stories on energy or science policy, and there were few on religion issues….”

According to her research, the WaPo was also decidedly pro-Obama.

“…Stories and photos about Obama in the news pages outnumbered those devoted to McCain. Reporters, photographers and editors found the candidacy of Obama, the first African American major-party nominee, more newsworthy and historic. Journalists love the new; McCain, 25 years older than Obama, was already well known and had more scars from his longer career in politics.

The number of Obama stories since Nov. 11 was 946, compared with McCain’s 786. Both had hard-fought primary campaigns, but Obama’s battle with Hillary Rodham Clinton was longer, and the numbers reflect that…”

She believes her research is similar to that found among other news media, as found by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Execellence in Journalism.

“…Our survey results are comparable to figures for the national news media from a study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism. It found that from June 9, when Clinton dropped out of the race, until Nov. 2,  66 percent of the campaign stories were about Obama compared with 53 percent for McCain; some stories featured both. The project also calculated that in that time, 57 percent of the stories were about the horse race and 13 percent were about issues.”

The study, released on October 22, also found that election coverage was clearly biased against McCain and toward Obama.

“But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time. In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one—the most unfavorable of all four candidates—according to the study by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.”

The Pew breakdown of slant by candidate:

Obama:
            Positive 36%
            Negative 29%
            Neutral or “Mixed” 35%

McCain:
            Positive 14%
            Negative 57%
            Neutral or “Mixed” (estimated) 29%

 According to the study,

“McCain did succeed in erasing one advantage Obama enjoyed earlier in the campaign—the level of media exposure each candidate received. Since the end of August, the two rivals have been in a virtual dead heat in the amount of attention paid, and when vice presidential candidates are added to the mix the Republican ticket has the edge. This is a striking contrast to the pre-convention period, when Obama enjoyed nearly 50% more coverage.”

“Counting from June 4, Obama was in 311 [Washington] Post photos and McCain in 282,” writes Howell for the Washington Post. “Obama led in most categories. Obama led 133 to 121 in pictures more than three columns wide, 178 to 161 in smaller pictures, and 164 to 133 in color photos. In black and white photos, the nominees were about even, with McCain at 149 and Obama at 147. On Page 1, they were even at 26 each.”




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