With the Presidential election looming upon the citizens of America many voters were confused as to whom they could trust to give them the truth about candidates and their positions on important issues. Traditionally the news media had been relied upon to inform voters and ultimately help them make their decision, but lately there has been a revolt by voters against the media as many reports of bias and favoritism towards a specific candidate have circulated among major news outlets. But is this so-called “bias” just a conservative conspiracy theory, or did the media really want Senator Barrack Hussein Obama to win the Presidency?
When asking the question of whether or not the media wanted Obama to win the election, the first thing one must determine is who exactly the “media” is. The Main Stream Media, or MSM as some bloggers refer to it as, is most commonly described as consisting of the top 3 News Media outlets of NBC, ABC, and CBS. These three outlets will be the main focus of this study.
The next thing that needs to be determined is what exactly will be classified as bias for the duration of this study. According to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, bias is defined as “a personal and sometimes unreasoned judgment.” So what needs to be found in order to answer our question is whether or not members of the MSM have been letting their personal opinions into their reporting, shedding too much positive or negative light on particular candidates.
For quite awhile now there has been the persisting idea of a “liberal media bias,” existing here in America, and according to a Pew Research Center (2006) study which found that journalists are more than twice as likely to lean to the “left” when compared to the average American citizen, there is obviously some truth to this idea (“Politics and Party”).
Perhaps the political leanings of journalists were somewhat responsible for the supposed bias viewers were seeing towards Senator Obama. After all, a second Pew Research Center (2008) study found that nearly 70% of all news stories between February 25, 2008, and March 5, 2008, were about the Democratic candidates, with less than 20% of coverage devoted to the plethora of Republican contenders for the White House (“Media Exposure”).
Further proving the public’s perception of media bias, a Gallup (2007) poll revealed that 42 percent of respondents believed that the national news media was “too liberal,” while only 16 percent thought it was “too conservative”. Somewhere in the middle were those who believed the national news media’s tone was just about right (“Media Use and Evaluation”).
While the media’s liberal leanings may be a factor in the bias debate, from the early stages of the Primary Season people have been questioning the media’s apparent fascination with Presidential Candidate and Illinois junior Senator Barrack Hussein Obama. The media declares itself to be unbiased in their coverage, but has this assertion held true this election cycle? Fellow Democratic contender and junior Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton and her supporters obviously did not think so. Polls conducted by Pew Research Center (2008) show that although Senator Clinton was a top newsmaker in 2007, that only 28% said they had heard mostly about her in the media after the Iowa caucuses, compared to Senator Obama with 38% (“Democratic Candidates”).
Many also thought that the media attempted to declare Senator Obama the winner of the Democratic nomination over Senator Clinton prematurely. One Gallup (2008) poll has 72% of responders saying that “ say that journalists should not be anointing Obama as the Democratic nominee at this stage in the race,” (“Public Says”). Senator Clinton herself poked fun at the media’s overtly obsequious treatment of Senator Obama, quipping at a Democratic debate, that “maybe we should ask Barrack if he’s comfortable and needs another pillow” (“Press Takes”).
Clinton supporter (and journalist) Diane Sawyer summed up the sentiment among Clintonites by asking, “Have all of us in the media used boxing gloves on Clinton and kid gloves on Obama? Have we been unfair?” (Good Morning America, Feb. 28, 2008). If Clinton and her supporters are correct, then the perception of bias for Senator Obama is not merely one of choosing a Democrat over a Republican, but rather one of an outright desire for Senator Obama to win the 2008 Presidential election over all challengers regardless of party identity and political ideology.
Before it was decided who would have their parties candidacy, voters told Gallup (2008) researchers that they felt the media was being easier on Obama and McCain than they were on Hillary Clinton (“Public Says Media Harder on Clinton than Obama, McCain”). Of the 1,013 adults polled, 21 percent said the media was being too easy on Clinton, while Obama and McCain got 37 percent and 33 percent respectively. The study also found that of the 52 percent of respondents who were not happy with the media coverage of the election, the main reasons for being unhappy were the perception of bias (24 percent), the uncertainty that outlets were being honest (20 percent), and feelings that the media coverage was “too shallow” (17 percent). Even before Obama was the official candidate, many believed he was getting special treatment by the media compared with treatment of the other candidates.
In a Pew (2008) study entitled “Character and the Primaries of 2008,” statistics gathered using the NCI from January 1- March 9, 2008, showed that Obama’s coverage was 69 percent positive, and 31 percent negative; Clinton’s was 67 percent positive, and 33 percent negative; and McCain’s was only 43 percent positive, and 57 percent negative. Given earlier research concluding that news outlets typically lean towards Democratic candidates, it is not surprising that both Clinton and Obama received far more positive stories than McCain. But it is interesting to note, that Clinton, long a media darling, had fewer positive, and more negative coverage than newcomer Obama. This is said by some to be an early indictor of the media’s infatuation with Obama.
General Election Coverage
With the media so obviously focusing more on Senator Obama rather than Senator Clinton, research could now shift focus towards Senator Obama’s press exposure compared to that of the Republican contenders. The two men that received the majority of the press on the Republican side of things were now-Republican Presidential nominee Senator John McCain, and former Governor of Arkansas, Mike Huckabee. In a study quoted earlier by the Pew Research Center (2008), while Senator Obama received 70% of the news stories (which the study also reported was the highest mark for any candidate in the 2008 election) within the time frame (Feb. 25- March 5, 2008) researchers looked at, Senator McCain, who had all but clinched his party’s nomination at the time, barely registered at only 28% (“Race for Media“). The study also focused on Governor Huckabee’s astounding lack of media exposure, telling us that “Huckabee, who was written off by the media in the early stages of the campaign and again before his surprising Super Tuesday wins, appears to have been counted out for the third, and probably final, time by the press, registering at about 2%” ( “Press Takes”). Comparing Senator Obama’s 70% to Senator McCain’s and Governor Huckabee’s 28% and 2% respectively, leaves little question to whom the press is paying the most attention to.
Another example that many believe is evidence of media bias towards Senator Obama is the unprecedented amount of press coverage for his European and Middle Eastern trip in July 2008. Over 40 journalists traveled with Obama, at a cost of nearly $20, 000 each, on the converse, only two reporters followed Senator McCain to New Hampshire that same week (“Obama’s Trip”). During the week of the trip over half of all news stories were about the trip itself, also “the press devoted significant attention to whether it was tilting toward the Democrat (“Amid Charges”). That same week, Senator McCain garnered less than 10% of news stories on his own, with about 10% going to comparing the two candidates’ varying campaign strategies (“Top Campaign”).
After Senator Obama gave a speech in Berlin, Germany on July 24, 2008, NBC news anchor Brian Williams reported that ‘If the elections were held today, Barrack Obama Could sail to victory by a margin of 70% or more as President of Germany, perhaps all of Europe,” that is high praise for a candidate, although Williams did add that, “the only problem is Senator Obama is running for President of the United States” (“Obama’s Trip”).
In a rare moment of insight by the press, they actually began to question their own motives in giving Senator Obama so much overt exposure. Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote, “Reporters are generally biased toward Obama…This situation continues on his overseas campaign trip. TV anchors were all but ululating…at his approach, desperate for interviews after he sank that three-point shot in front of American troops and hit nothing but net ” (“Amid Charges”). Later the same day, Lou Dobbs of CNN, read a series of viewer emails during his newscast, that were suggesting the same general feeling: “I thought the media was supposed to be unbiased,” wrote one viewer. “When did the media elect Obama?” added another. Yet another called it “the worst one-sided coverage I have ever seen” (as cited in “Amid Charges”).
Public perception obviously shows that the majority of people believe the media to be biased towards Senator Obama. In fact, a poll undertaken by Pew Research (2008) shows that nearly half (48%) of respondents felt that they had heard too much about Senator Obama in the media, and actually thought he was being dramatically “overexposed” (“Obama Fatigue”).
Comparatively, the same poll had only 26% of respondents saying they were tired of hearing about Senator McCain, while 38% said they wanted to hear more about the Republican nominee (“Obama Fatigue”).
Less than two weeks before the Presidential election, Pew Research (2008) released a poll revealing that 70 percent of respondents believe that the media wanted Obama to win the Presidency; only 9 percent said they wanted McCain to win (“Most Voters Say News Media Wants Obama to Win”). This figure, which was derived from the Pew Excellence in Journalism News Coverage Index ( a survey of forty-eight media outlets across five different media sectors), reveals the public’s perception of the news media’s love affair with Barrack Obama.
In another Pew (2008) study, once again using the Pew NCI, statistics showed that 36 percent of news stories about Obama were positive, while only 29 percent were negative. Comparatively, McCain received negative coverage 57 percent o f the time and positive coverage 14 percent of the time (“Winning the Media Campaign”). The media overwhelmingly showed favor to Obama as compared to John McCain, as supported by Jennifer Harper in the Washington Times (2008). Harper’s statistics showed that 61 percent of media stories run on ABC, NBC, and CBS reflected positively on Democrats, on the other side of the aisle, just 39 percent of stories reflected positively on Republicans. According to a study performed by Comcast (2008), “Comments made by sources, voters, reporters, and anchors that aired on ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news casts over the past two months [August – October 2008] reflected positively on Obama in 65 percent of cases, as compared to 36 percent of cases with regards to McCain”( “Study: Media Coverage has Favored Obama Campaign”). Together these studies provide evidence of a trend among national news outlets, and their coverage of the presidential contenders.
Later on in the election cycle, a Pew (2008) study looked exclusively at the MSNBC coverage of Obama, McCain, and Sarah Palin, in comparison with the news media in general (“The Color of the News”). While the media coverage at this time (September 8- October 16, 2008) for McCain was 14 percent positive and 57 percent negative, MSNBC’s coverage of McCain was only 10 percent positive, and 73 percent negative. His running mate Palin received 28 percent positive and 39 percent negative in general, but MSNBC coverage was overwhelmingly negative at 68 percent while positive coverage only accounted for 21 percent. Meanwhile, Obama’s general coverage was at 36 percent positive and 29 percent negative, his MSNBC coverage however was 43 percent positive and only 14 percent negative. While in general McCain and Palin were reflected more poorly than Obama, MSNBC’s statistics showed considerably more bias.
For the second part of my research I decided to look back at a previous presidential election, in order to see what the media said about the various candidates, how they were portrayed, and who eventually was victorious. I focused mostly on the 2004 election pitting then President George W. Bush and his Vice President Dick Cheney, against Senator John Kerry and his Vice Presidential Nominee John Edwards.
It quickly became clear to me that this was indeed a good comparison to the current election between McCain and Obama, when I found the following quote:
The media, I think, wants Kerry to win, and I think they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards- I’m talking about the establishment media, not FOX- but they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and all.
This quote by Newsweek’s Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas, is eerily similar to a recent snippet from the article “The Triumph of Narrative” by Paul Waldman, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America. In the article he says the following in regards to Senators Obama and McCain:
And if he should find himself facing Obama, McCain will discover that his own weaknesses fit in neatly with the story Obama tells. Where Obama is young, dynamic and optimistic, McCain is old, subdued, and prone to telling voters that things are likely to get worse before they get better.
The media has been proven to have a habit of supporting Democratic candidates, while running their Republican counterparts into the ground. One good example of this is a study by the Media Research Center, a media watchdog group, in coordination with the Free Market Project. Free Market Project researchers analyzed TV news coverage the day of, or newspaper coverage the day after, the release of unemployment and job creation reports during the summer re-election season (May to September) in 1996 and 2004. The outlets studied were ABC, CBS, CNN, NBC, The Washington Post and The New York Times. They found that while the economic factors were nearly identical during both Democratic President Bill Clinton’s and Republican President George W. Bush’s reelection campaigns, the media was 85% positive on economic issues during Clinton’s campaign, and 77% negative on the same issues during Bush’s.
Since the economic factors were so similar, it was the conclusion of the study that the media was more favorable to Clinton because they wanted him to be reelected, whereas they wished for Bush to be defeated by Kerry. Casting the same economic information differently based on who it will favor in elections is only one of the obvious biases embodied by the press.
Another example of media bias in the 2004 election, was the issue of both Bush’s and his Democratic opponent Kerry’s military service. While both men served our country, there were rumors surrounding both men’s military records. The problem started with what has become known as “Rathergate”- when then CBS Evening News Anchor Dan Rather claimed to have been given documents proving that George W. Bush received favorable treatment during his time with the Texas Air National Guard, refused to obey orders, and was repeatedly absent from training and meetings. The Democratic National Committee Chairman at the time, Terry McAuliffe, accused Bush of being “AWOL” ( a military term for Absent With Out Leave, by law a punishable offense). The media jumped on the story for a few days, until ultimately the documents were revealed to be forgeries. Dan Rather refused to take responsibility, and still claims that he believes the documents were either real, or forged by the Bush administration in order to discredit CBS and himself. Rather retired a few months later, although reports circulated that he was pushed out over the scandal.
The second shoe dropped when a group of Vietnam veterans who served with Democratic Nominee John Kerry, and called themselves “Swift Boat Veterans for Truth,” came forward with accusations that Kerry had greatly exaggerated his heroism during the Vietnam War. They asserted that Kerry had lied about injuries sustained during the war, and that they may have even been self-inflicted. They further exposed Kerry’s mistruths about various battles, dates, and places. The story greatly reminded me of the Hillary Clinton gaffe regarding being under fire in Bosnia during her time as First Lady.
Instead of reporting these accusations and allowing Kerry to respond, the media largely ignored the story. In fact, the Media Research Center analysts examined ABC, CBS and NBC’s morning and evening news shows, and found 75 stories in 2004 questioning Bush’s National Guard service, but only nine detailing any of the Swift Vets’ anti-Kerry charges, an eight-to-one disparity.
I also found a few choice quotes from several media heavyweights concerning the then largely unknown Illinois Senator Barrack Obama. After giving a keynote speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, Obama had Democratic pundits more excited about him than the Democratic Candidate for President.
NBC anchor Katie Couric called Obama “very impressive” and “a real rising star,” while “Meet The Press” host Tim Russert noted how some were already wondering if Obama could be “the first black president.” CBS’s Cynthia Bowers continued the praise, calling Obama’s speech “the night’s most electrifying moment,” while ABC’s Charles Gibson repeatedly gushed that Obama had “brought down the house.” Gibson also giddily predicted that “Last night, a political star may have been born.” ABC anchor, and former Clinton campaign operative, George Stephanopoulos was equally as enthusiastic about Obama:
He’s the Tiger Woods of the Democratic Party right now, not just because of his blended background, but because of his ease. He’s such a natural politician and because he’s got cross-over appeal. One of the things that he did on the podium last night, very few other speakers have done it, he reached out to Republicans, to Independents, and that’s what he’s done in his campaign in Illinois, reached out across party lines.
Russert even went so far at the time to suggest a future White House run:
His uniqueness, father’s Kenyan, a mother a white woman from Kansas, raised by white grandparents. Someone who went to Columbia University, Harvard Law School. He seems to have all the tools, Katie. He’s a state senator, and people are already holding their breath last night saying he’s going to be the first black President.
At the time this was quite a stretch, and the Media Research Center responded to the praise by saying only that, “If Obama does ever run for President, he can certainly count on a helpful news media — if the three network news divisions (ABC, NBC and CBS) are still in business, that is.” This assertion has certainly turned out to have merit, as all three of these news outlets have been accused of being biased towards Senator Obama.
A look at 2004 quotes regarding future Republican Presidential Nominee John McCain, is quite surprising; CBS’s Dan Rather, a firm Bush critic built up McCain saying, “Arizona’s Republican Senator and Vietnam War hero, John McCain, a member of the Armed Services Committee in the Senate, is stepping up his criticism of Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.” This is a huge deviation from Rather’s more recent words regarding Senator McCain, accusing Big Oil companies to be lowering gas prices in a conspiracy to help the GOP candidate win the election:
Things to watch with the thought in mind many people vote their pocketbooks when it comes to voting for President: price of oil. The price of oil has been high. The people who can affect the price of oil would prefer a Republican presidential candidate. Watch the price of oil. If it goes down, which it may very well it could help John McCain quite a bit.
My research has shown without a doubt that John Kerry and his running mate John Edwards has the media on their side, in fact I found many parallels between descriptions given of the 2004 and 2008 Democratic tickets. But while they may have had a media advantage, it either was not enough to make a difference, or it was not an advantage at all. Despite the media bias against him, George W. Bush successfully won his reelection bid in 2004.
But none of these statistics and figures matter unless it can be proven that the media influences the way the average American votes when it comes to presidential elections. In order to solve for this, one only has to look to a study performed by Sungtae Ha (2008). This study conducted comprehensive content analyses of network television newscasts and survey data analyses of the National Election Studies to compare news content and public opinion regarding the 1992 and 2000 presidential elections. This study found remarkably strong correlations between campaign issues in the news and voters’ national agendas, and between the news descriptions of the presidential candidates and voters’ criteria for candidate selection. The results imply that, “news coverage of presidential campaigns have significant influence on voters’ perception about nationally important issues and their image and judgments about their presidential candidates. In addition, those media effects were found to be stronger particularly for new and winning candidates, which provide an underlying psychological explanation about media influence” (“Beyond Cognition: Influence OF Presidential Campaign News on Voter’s Perception” pg. 1).
A related study entitled “Parties, Candidates, And Policy Issues in the 2000 Presidential Election: Being Primed or Muted by Media and Interpersonal Discussion,” by Jaeho Cho questions the explanation scholars give for voting, namely that “party identification, issues, and candidate images are key determinants of the vote” (pg 1). Cho’s hypothesis was that television news use will promote candidate image-based voting, and interpersonal political discussion will encourage party-based voting. His conclusion supported this, and he went on to say that “In the 2000 election, candidate character (i.e., competence and personal quality) and party identification were primed by television and interpersonal discussion respectively whereas policy issues have been muted by television news” (pg. 21).
So according to the studies presented, the media influences the way people vote, than then way the media portrays candidates, issues, and policies has a direct influence on how people will vote in he presidential election. Based on the evidence submitted in this study, one may come to the conclusion that the media, if aware of its influence, could purposely portray certain candidates in a more favorable light than others in order to sway viewers to vote for the candidate of the media’s choice.
Over the course of this study many statistics, studies, and figures have shown that there is a significant bias among members of the Main Stream Media. From sly innuendoes, to outright lies, some reporters and journalists have clearly let their personal political convictions take precedence over their duty to inform the American public of the facts surrounding the major candidates. My research findings make me feel confident in condemning the Media of extreme bias towards Democrats in general, but in this specific case, that bias transcended party lines with their overwhelming support for Senator Barrack Obama.
All of the evidence put forth in this study supports the idea that the media did in fact want Obama to win, and that they willingly abandoned any attempts at “fair and balanced” coverage in order to further Obama’s chances of winning the presidency. It is not a stretch to conclude that the evidence complied in this study supports the idea that the news media’s proven bias towards Barrack Obama, along with their dislike of McCain and Palin, was both knowledgeable and purposeful. The conclusion of the author is that the media abused its influence on the American people in order to put the candidate that they favored into the White House. They made little or no attempt to provide fair and equal coverage to the candidates, and the results of the election reflect this. On November 4, 2008, Barrack Obama was elected President of the United States.
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