McCain and the media: Is the romance over?

A new study finds that the media's recent coverage of John McCain has been decidedly negative.

By Vincent Rossmeier
Published October 22, 2008 9:05PM (EDT)

Great romances often end in tragedy. Just look at Tristan and Isolde or Romeo and Juliet. And now, according to a new study, it seems one of the legendary romances of our time has come to an end.

After looking at 2,412 stories from 43 newspapers and cable news shows, The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in the six weeks between the party conventions and the final presidential debate, press coverage of John McCain was overwhelmingly negative. Fifty-seven percent of the stories about McCain were negative in nature, the study found, while just 14 percent were positive. The coverage of Barack Obama on the other hand, though not overwhelmingly positive, was favorable in 36 percent of cases and negative 29 percent of the time.

Interestingly, the authors of the report write that Sarah Palin's press coverage has fluctuated over time, going from "quite positive, to very negative, to more mixed" and that "Palin's portrayal in the press was not the major factor hurting McCain." In fact, according to the study, the press has treated her far more positively than it has treated McCain.

So was the reason for the media's negative treatment of McCain that notorious "left-wing bias"? Not according to the study's findings. Pew attributes the press's blistering coverage of McCain in part to the candidate's poor response to the economic crisis and his attacks on Obama's character. The report also concludes that the findings "offer a strong suggestion that winning in politics begets winning coverage, thanks in part to the relentless tendency of the press to frame its coverage of national elections as running narratives about the relative position of the candidates in the polls and internal tactical maneuvering to alter those positions. Obama's coverage was negative in tone when he was dropping in the polls, and became positive when he began to rise, and it was just so for McCain as well."

Vincent Rossmeier

Vincent Rossmeier is an editorial assistant at Salon.

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2008 Elections Barack Obama Joe Biden John Mccain R-ariz. Sarah Palin