Sunday, July 10, 2005

President Bush just can’t win with the broadcast networks.

More than two-thirds of the news stories on ABC, NBC and CBS covering the first 100 days of Mr. Bush’s second term were negative, according to an analysis released today by the District-based Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA).

It’s actually a slight improvement: During the first 100 days of his initial term in office, the coverage was 71 percent negative, according to a similar CMPA study conducted in 2001.

In comparison, President Clinton’s first-term news coverage was 59 percent negative in 1993.

The three networks also seem to be boycotting Mr. Bush this time around. He rated 619 stories during the study period in 2001— but just 250 stories this year, the study found.

“Presidents tend to get bad coverage during their second terms. The press is sick of them by then. The Iraq war and the weapons-of-mass-destruction question was a particular factor for Mr. Bush this time,” said CMPA director Robert Lichter.

“Many journalists felt tricked by the White House, and consequently were not going to let the president get away with anything,” Mr. Lichter said.

“But the public isn’t going to let the news media get away with anything either,” he added. “The public is more critical and ask more questions about news coverage these days — and what offends them most is negativism.”

The CMPA study analyzed stories that aired Jan. 20 to April 29.

ABC was the most critical — 78 percent of the coverage of the president on “ABC World News Tonight” was negative. On CBS, the coverage was 71 percent negative. The study called NBC “more balanced” at 57 percent negative.

The analysis also flagged comments deemed judgmental or overtly negative.

“Without comment about how he felt taking the nation to war on such flawed assumptions, President Bush agreed it’s time to go to work,” said CBS correspondent John Roberts on March 31.

NBC, meanwhile, showcased one Georgia voter saying in early February, “I’m in the working world, trying to make a living. Seems like [Bush is] screwing it all up.”

The three networks also had pet targets. Seventy-eight percent of stories about Mr. Bush’s Social Security reforms were negative, along with 77 percent of stories on his domestic policy and 71 percent of stories on Iraq policy.

The president got an easier ride on his foreign policies. The study found that those stories were 58 percent negative.

But Bush-bashing seems to be entrenched. The press “battered” the president during the 2004 election season, according to a Project for Excellence in Journalism analysis of 817 print and broadcast stories that ran in October.

Mr. Bush “suffered strikingly more negative press coverage than challenger John Kerry,” the study stated. “Overall, 59 percent of Bush-dominated stories were clearly negative in nature,” while “just 25 percent of Kerry stories were decidedly negative.”

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