- The Washington Times - Monday, February 4, 2008

The stories may be kind — but there”s little meat on them.

The entire field of White House hopefuls is getting more positive coverage than negative, according to an analysis of election news stories released today by the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA). Discussion of important policy issues was minimal, however, upstaged by insider speculation or the details of political strategies.

The study analyzed 765 stories broadcast from Dec. 16 to Jan. 27 on NBC, CBS, ABC and Fox News.

Candidate bashing was not the norm: In more than 22 hours of broadcasts, 62 percent of the stories featuring Democratic candidates were positive in nature. Among stories focusing on the Republican field, 58 percent were positive.

“Where”s the beef?” the study asked, in search of proverbial “red meat” content.

Only 20 percent of the stories contained any substantive discussion of real issues, the kind of content that voters say they pine for, according to recent studies by the CMPA, Pew Research Center and other groups. The remaining coverage endlessly teased apart the tactics of contenders along the campaign trail or addressed the “what-ifs” of the presidential race and the potential victor.

“Issue coverage goes up and down from election to election, but horse race coverage is forever,” said CMPA director Robert Lichter. “It”s a classic problem. Voters simply don”t follow politics like the press. Journalists have heard those stump speeches a hundred times, so they rely on analysis to flesh things out. Voters, meanwhile, are left screaming for solid information about the issues and where candidates stand on them”

When they did delve into the specifics, broadcasters had their favorites, however. The most heavily discussed topic was the Iraq war, followed by race relations, electoral reform, illegal immigration, unemployment and taxes, the study found.

Fox News emerged as the most “issue-oriented” of the networks, devoting 30 percent of their overall coverage to substantive discussion of issues.

Among Democrats, Sen. Barack Obama of Illinois has been on a honeymoon with the press — 84 percent of the stories on him were positive, compared with 51 percent for Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton of New York. The study found that NBC was the most critical of Mrs. Clinton and ABC the most positive — with Fox News and CBS falling in the middle.

With 27 stories devoted to him, former President Bill Clinton attracted more attention than former Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, who garnered 18. Glowing accounts were few for Mr. Clinton: 74 percent of the stories on him were negative.

“Bill and Hillary have been around so long that the press has uncovered all sorts of bad stuff about them. Obama benefits because he”s truly the new, fresh face on the block,” Mr. Lichter said.

Among Republicans, Sen. John McCain of Arizona got the best press, with almost three-quarters of the stories positive. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee received 57 percent positive coverage and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney 47 percent positive.

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