Republican hopefuls for the White House just can’t get a break from the press - and it’s been that way for the past four election cycles.
This time around, Sen. John McCain continues to get relentless, negative coverage in news outlets both here and abroad, according to new research from several sources.
The phenomenon has not escaped the public’s notice: 70 percent of voters say the media wants Democratic Sen. Barack Obama to win the presidential election while just 9 percent said the press favored Mr. McCain, according to a Pew Research Center survey of 1,003 adults conducted Oct. 17 to 20.
Among Republican respondents, the figure was 90 percent, and even 62 percent of Democratic respondents agreed with the idea that “most journalists are pulling for Obama.”
It’s a tradition of sorts.
“In recent presidential campaigns, voters repeatedly have said they thought journalists favored the Democratic candidate over the Republican,” the survey said.
In the 2004 presidential race, half the respondents thought the press wanted Sen. John Kerry, Massachusetts Democrat, to triumph over incumbent President Bush; 22 percent said journalists favored Mr. Bush. Similar trends emerged in the past four elections, according to Pew. Starting in 1992, some 52 percent of the respondents said the press favored then-Arkansas Gov. Bill Clinton and 17 percent said journalists favored President George H.W. Bush.
Mr. McCain shrugs the possible bias off for the most part.
“Ah, listen, I’m not going to complain about the press corps,” he said in an interview with The Washington Times, although he acknowledged that journalists appear to be chummy with Mr. Obama.
“The interesting thing is, and it’s happened on numerous occasions, I get ‘How come you’re not the old McCain?’ and usually it’s an Obama talking point from somebody,” Mr. McCain observed.
Some journalists have become concerned. On Friday, PBS media analyst Jeffrey Brown wondered whether some in the press “have essentially started to treat this race like it’s over.”
Los Angeles Times political writer Robin Abcarian agreed, saying: “I do think that’s a legitimate concern. And I have worried about that myself.”
An analysis of 2,412 print, broadcast and Web-based campaign stories by the Project for Excellence in Journalism revealed that recent coverage of Mr. McCain has been “heavily unfavorable - and has become more so over time.”
In the six weeks after the national political conventions, nearly six in 10 stories about him were negative in tone, with 14 percent positive and the rest neutral. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, Mr. McCain’s running mate, garnered 39 percent negative coverage, with 28 percent positive and the rest neutral.
Mr. Obama did not get an entirely free ride. The analysis found that 29 percent of the coverage about him was negative, 36 percent was positive and 35 percent was neutral. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., the Democratic vice presidential hopeful, was “nearly the invisible man,” the study said. About half of the modest number of stories that centered on him were negative.
The analysis also found that the press was fixated on the political horse race, with 55 percent of the stories emphasizing tactics, polls and strategy above more substantial topics like policy, character or personal record. Mr. Obama appeared to benefit from this journalistic feedback chamber of analysis and speculation.
“The candidate who was perceived to be winning this year got better coverage,” the study said.
On a global scale, Mr. McCain has not gotten much fair treatment either.
A massive Reader’s Digest survey of more than 17,000 people in 15 countries released Wednesday found that Mr. Obama won the favorability contest in every country polled. Although in the U.S., he won by only a small margin.
It was pure “Obamamania,” said polling director John Fredricks - particularly in nations such as the Netherlands, where Mr. Obama garnered a 90 percent favorability rating. In Germany, the figure was 85 percent.
“It’s a good thing for John McCain that only American citizens can vote in U.S. presidential elections. If the election were held overseas, or even in the rest of North America, the Republican nominee wouldn’t stand a chance,” noted Carl Cannon, the magazine’s Washington correspondent.
Disaffection with Mr. Bush contributed to the lopsided results overseas, he said, along with the perceived sense that Mr. Obama is a “citizen of the world,” because his father was Kenyan and he spent part of his childhood in Indonesia.
“Other factors are at play as well. For starters, the media elite, especially in Europe, tends to be liberal, and its news coverage of the U.S. election reflects this slant. The upshot is that the ordinary Dutchman or Englishwoman - or Indonesian, for that matter - receives a steady diet of positive Obama coverage,” Mr. Cannon observed.