“Mitt Romney needed 15 weeks once the primary contests began to gain a secure hold over his party’s nomination for president,” Tom Rosenstiel, Mark Jurkowitz and Tricia Sartor wrote Monday for the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism. “But he emerged as the conclusive winner in the media narrative about the race six weeks earlier, following a narrow win in his native state, according to a new report by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism that examines in detail the media’s coverage of the race.
“After Romney’s tight victory in the Michigan primary on Feb. 28, news coverage about his candidacy became measurably more favorable and the portrayal of his rivals — particularly Rick Santorum — began to become more negative and to shrink in volume.
“One main component of that shift in the narrative is that after Michigan, the news media began to view Romney’s nomination as essentially inevitable. Indeed, a close look at the coverage finds that references to delegate math and the concept of electoral inevitability spiked in the media the week after Michigan, rising twelve fold, for instance, on television news programs. From that point on, the amount of attention in the press to Romney’s candidacy began to overwhelm that of his rivals, and the tone of coverage about him, which had been often mixed or negative before, became solidly positive.
“. . . The public has been offered a mixed view of Romney, one that has emphasized his wealth, his record as a private equity executive and focused on the difficulties he has had as a campaigner in persuading conservative primary voters to embrace him. In the case of President Obama, the public has been exposed to a mostly negative portrayal. That, in substantial part, is a function of the fact that for many months he has been the target of multiple Republican candidates attacking his record and his competence as they sought to take his job.”
“Of all the presidential candidates studied in this report, only one figure did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage — the incumbent, Democrat Barack Obama,” Tom Rosenstiel, Mark Jurkowitz and Tricia Sartor wrote Monday for the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.
“While a sitting president may have access to the ‘bully pulpit,’ that does not mean he has control of the media narrative, particularly during the other party’s primary season.
“In Obama’s case, his negative coverage was driven by several factors. One was the consistent criticism leveled at him by each of the Republican contenders during primary season. The other involved news coverage of issues — ranging from the tenuous economic recovery to the continuing challenges to his health care legislation — with which he was inextricably linked. An examination of the themes in Obama’s coverage also reveals that the coverage placed him firmly in campaign mode. His coverage that focused on the strategic frame exceeded that relating to policy issues by 3:1.