He has an official pre-presidential logo and a dramatic custom-built dais — with columns — even before he arrived at the White House. President Obama drew instant love from the press, who were captivated by the image before them.
Mr. Obama garnered more coverage — and more positive coverage — than former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Ronald Reagan during their comparable times in office, according to a study released Monday by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA).
Much of the Obama coverage was breathlessly positive, even melodramatic. But then something happened.
"The press stopped covering President Obama the historical figure, and started covering President Obama the politician. It took a few months, but many journalists started returning to their old critical ways, and the coverage went negative," said CMPA Director Robert Lichter, who conducted the research in conjunction with George Mason and Chapman universities.
"Barack Obama had his honeymoon, but now the party's over. He got all the spectacular stuff when he was just beginning. Still, there's a silver lining for Mr. Obama — his coverage would be envied by other recent presidents," Mr. Lichter added.
Indeed. The analysis was based on 3,859 news stories that appeared on the ABC, CBS and NBC evening newscasts, plus in the New York Times, Time and Newsweek from Jan. 20, 2009, through Dec. 31, plus a separate analysis of 1,728 stories on the Fox News Channel "Special Report."
During the entire first calendar year of his administration, Mr. Obama's mainstream media coverage was almost "perfectly balanced" — he rated 49 percent positive and 51 percent negative evaluations by sources and reporters.
That's pretty good compared to his predecessors during their first 12 months in the White house. Previous CMPA studies found that Mr. Bush received only 23 percent positive evaluations in 2001; Mr. Clinton had 28 percent positive evaluations in 1993 and Mr. Reagan had 26 percent positive evaluations in 1981.
"Obama's balanced media coverage in 2009 was still about twice as positive as the coverage received by Bush and Reagan during comparable time periods," the study said.
The proverbial press honeymoon waned with the White House in early summer, the study found. Presidential evaluations from January through April were 59 percent positive then dropped to 46 percent positive from May through July. In the last four months of the year, Mr. Obama received 39 percent positive reviews.
Fox News was never in the Obama fan club, however. Only 22 percent of their stories on Mr. Obama were positive during the year, some of it quite pointed.
"The president's story does not make any sense," said Fox News correspondent Jim Angle on June 3.
"His quest to secure the 2016 Olympics for Chicago failed in spectacular fashion," commented Fox News' Bret Baier in October.
Relations between the network and the White House have been described as "a war" by many news analysts; the Obama administration is not shy about lobbing its own bombs at Fox by questioning its "point of view" as a news organization.
"We don't feel the obligation to treat them like we would treat a CNN, or an ABC, or an NBC, or a traditional news organization," White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer told the New York Times.
Fox News commentator Greg Gutfeld responded, "The White House has a new communications director and he's just as adorably misguided as the previous one."
As a cautionary tale to White House strategists, the CMPA study found that the press hammered on Mr. Obama's policies, though his personal leadership often escaped heavy criticism. The research found that during 2009, reviews of his policy were only 37 percent positive — and 63 percent negative.