- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 21, 2007

An analysis of more than 35,000 stories from print, broadcast and online sources finds political bickering and analysis over the 2008 election topping the news, a year before the vote.

According to a report released yesterday by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, the presidential election has emerged as the leading news story for the second quarter this year.

The fare is heavily Democratic, with 51 percent of the coverage centered on Democrats in the first half of the year, compared with 33 percent devoted to Republicans. The rest was divided among third- or mixed-party coverage.

“The presidential campaign took center stage,” the report said, garnering more coverage than Iraq war policy, immigration issues and controversy over a racial-tinged remark by radio host Don Imus. Between April and June, the press opted for the “escalating war” among White House hopefuls, particularly after Congress voted to continue funding Iraq military operations in May.

Some candidates wooed the press more than others. Among Democrats, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois eclipsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York in the “derby for free media exposure,” the report said. Mr. Obama generated 622 stories in newspapers and network television alone in the second quarter of the year, compared with 566 stories for Mrs. Clinton and 367 for former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina.

Interest in leading Republicans was more tepid. Sen. John McCain of Arizona led the roster with a total of 383 stories, former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani followed with 341 and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was third at 318.

“Month in, month out, the media remain more interested in the … competing Democratic candidates,” the study said, noting that the party landed double the coverage in April — 54 percent, compared with 28 percent for Republicans. During the first three months of the year, coverage of Democrats outpaced Republicans 61 percent to 21 percent.

Republicans, however, had a bounce in June, garnering 57 percent of the coverage compared with 30 percent for Democrats.

News outlets revealed differences. Newspapers and cable TV news offered more coverage to Republicans than Democrats by a slight margin. Online news, network television and radio favored coverage of Democrats.

“It is important to note that these data speak to the quantity of coverage given to each party’s candidates, not tone of coverage,” the report said.

It also found that serious topics such as foreign policy, politics, crime, government and immigration dominated headlines in that order, quelling the notion that American news is driven by tabloid celebrity.

Health, the media, lifestyles, disaster, business and defense topics followed. Among the also-rans: the economy, environment, celebrities, domestic terrorism, technology, education, race and male/female issues, sports, religion, transportation and law — with urban sprawl dead last.

The analysis is based on content from 13 newspapers, eight radio outlets, five online news sites, three cable TV networks and three broadcast networks.