PEJ: Obama Wins In Coverage — But Much of It Critical

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By: Joe Strupp

Barack Obama received more campaign coverage than any other candidate during the past week, with 69% of campaign stories focusing on him, according to a survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, which noted that to be the highest percentage for any candidate this year.

But does that mean that Hillary Clinton’s charge that he is the media darling is correct? Not exactly. The Obama coverage was more critical and in-depth, the survey revealed, stating: “The media scrutinized everything from his legislative record to his connections to Louis Farrakhan, and frequently addressed the question of whether journalists have been too soft on the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination.” The review also stated, “Hillary Clinton?s complaints about a pro-Barack Obama media tilt helped prompt examinations of Obama?s record and catapulted him to a first-place finish in the competition for media exposure.”

The survey, which tallied stories between Feb. 25 and March 2, reviewed coverage from 48 media outlets, including 13 newspapers ranging from the likes of The Washington Post to the Chattanooga (Tenn.) Times Free Press. The review reported that Hillary Clinton came in second, noting she was “a significant or dominant factor” in 58% of campaigns stories during that week, “her highest level of coverage in 2008.”

The findings come as Obama and Clinton face-off in four key primaries Tuesday in Texas, Ohio, Vermont and Rhode Island.

Other details from the survey, released Tuesday:

? “In a week when the media focused nearly four times as much attention on Democrats (68%) than Republicans (15%), presumptive GOP nominee John McCain (28%) was the third-leading newsmaker. But he experienced a 10-point drop from last week and had his lowest coverage level in more than a month.”

? “Mike Huckabee registered at only about 2% of the coverage last week and has practically disappeared from the media?s radar screen. The press gave more attention to non-candidate Michael Bloomberg (3%), who announced that he will not run for president, and Ralph Nader (3%), who declared he will enter the race for the fifth consecutive time.”

? “At 38% of the overall newshole, the campaign accounted for its smallest share of overall weekly news coverage since the (PEJ) Campaign Coverage Index was launched in early January. The previous low mark was 39%.”

“Two converging factors may have contributed to the tenor of Obama coverage last week?the Clinton campaign?s increasing complaints about media bias and journalists? sense that with Obama now a clear frontrunner, the time was right for a more thorough scrubbing,” the report stated. “It is also possible, as well, that the narrative about a faltering Clinton campaign had become familiar.”

“Next to the campaign, the U.S. economy?staggering under more negative indicators, and stock market plunges?was the second-biggest story last week, filling 7% of the newshole as measured by the News Coverage Index ,” the report said. “That was followed by the conflict in Afghanistan (3%), where the news that England?s Prince Harry had been stationed there was the driving factor. Next came events inside Iraq (3%) and the Academy Award ceremonies, also at 3%.”

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