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Charting the media's political coverage

As the battles for the two major party nominations narrow down to the short lists, and with possible Waterloos looming next week on Super Tuesday, the Project for Excellence in Journalism has just released a report analyzing how the media is covering the campaign.

The report finds a mixed bag, to be sure, but the upshot is that the media pay an awful lot of attention to the front-runners. And any political reporter who has spent time on the trail has heard from supporters of lower-tier candidates -- from Ron Paul to Dennis Kucinich -- about how if the media would just give the candidate some attention, the campaign would flourish.

The folks at Medill Reports -- journalism graduate students at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill. -- digest the report here, looking at what comes first in this chicken-egg conundrum. And it is one of those unresolvable issues. Yes, if the media paid more attention to, say, Paul, then more people might know more about his positions. But if the candidate is not doing ...

anything that warrants news coverage, then should media outlets gin up stories just for the perception of equal time?

And would more coverage necessarily mean more support? That's unclear. As we've found in politics, familiarity can breed contempt. The idea of a candidate is sometimes more alluring than the reality of the candidate. Remember those heady days when conservatives were hoping Fred Thompson would get in the race?

The most interesting about the journalism report is the finding that Bill Clinton received more media attention than just about any of the candidates. But that just points up the problem of such studies. The story leading up to the South Carolina Democratic primary was how much the former president had injected himself in the campaign, and it was hardly flattering coverage. Same for Hillary Clinton's media mentions -- a large proportion come as hits on talk radio.

The reality is that the media are drawn to drama, same as news consumers. That John Edwards was giving the same stump speech for the third day in a row wasn't news. That Paul's poll numbers have remained flat despite raising a workable campaign kitty is no longer news. Same with the candidates' policy positions. When the issues figure in newsmaking events such as debates, then there is some coverage. But otherwise, issue coverage is usually handled in issue stories.

And if reader e-mails is any indicator, a lot more people are interested in the horse-race stories than in the policy stories.

-- Scott Martelle

Comments () | Archives (4)

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Well, Scott, hmmm.

This article still doesn't answer the question. Does media coverage (or lack of) have any effect on a campaign? I say yes.

I'm a Ron Paul supporter. From my experience, most of the people I talk to say that they "don't know anything about Ron Paul." When asked why, they reply by saying " I never see him in the News." And when I hand them some info and explain Paul's policies they seemed shocked. A lot of them are impressed. Some are not. But most have never heard of him.

If you'll notice , before this election ever even got started there were these so called Polls. The polls showed Guilliani leading nation wide. And they showed Ron Paul at the bottom. However, when people started to actually vote in the primaries Guilliani pretty much remained at the bottom and underneath Paul by a good margin. Now this sets the pace. Before the election even has it's first primary the so called national polls predetermine who does and does not deserve the coveted free airplay from the major news networks.

But says who? Blumburg? So Blumburg, via polls makes a list. And from that list the Media picks perhaps four candidates from each side. And from that moment on those are basically the ones that you will see in any major news coverages.

Even if, one or two of these "major" candidates drops out. Even if it boils down from the original eleven candidates on each side to just four on one side and two on the other. If you didn't qualify for the top tier list in the begining you will still probably not be included in the "somebody of notable worth" in the end. As can be seen by the recent California CNN GOP Debate in which Ron Paul was basically shunned.

If that debate line up had been Romney,McCain,Gulliani and Thompson I can assure you that they would have all received an equal amount of debate time.
Because they were all from the original "select list" of "viable "candidates. But because Ron Paul was not one of these original Blumburg Knights of the Wrong Stable he is still considered not worthy of being taken seriously.

And remember why people aren't familiar with Ron Paul: "we never see him (Ron Paul) in the news."

So here's the paradox. If most of the voters base their decisions on candidates from what they read and/or hear in the media. And the media pre determines who is a viable candidate. And as the election goes on only the "chosen"candidates are ever given any serious coverage then THE MEDIA picks our candidates.

And in regards to the age old question "which came first the chicken or the egg?"
I was once asked that question by my Dad. And I answered: " the egg dad! Dinosaurs were laying eggs before the chickens even came around!"

My Dad laughed, and then made me mow the lawn.

----Ron Paul 2008----

Scott, thank you for presenting this excellent blog topic!

One major problem is the fraudulent use of 'scientific' polls. Especially polls that do not include all the candidates names. For example, Ron Paul was excluded from the recent nationwide L.A. Times - Bloomberg poll as seen below:

LA Times Poll Blog:

LA Times Poll Results:

In Republican candidate questions (see questions 24 through 29), respondents were only given these choices: "Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee, John McCain, Mitt Romney or Fred Thompson"

RON PAUL WAS EXCLUDED! - LA Times poll was disgracefully biased.

So here is the problem. You folks in the MSM fabricate these biased polls then use these same polls to not report on the candidates that you excluded from the polls. Obviously the polls that said Giuliani and Thompson were ahead were completely wrong (probably fraudulent). Then you hold biased debates (like last night) to marginalize candidates based on these bogus polls.

As far as MSM exclusion of Ron Paul again there are hundreds/thousands of examples but this one from USA Today interesting:

Another example, Time magazine has only mentioned Ron Paul 2 times in the past year (plus a little two page dismissive article). Time magazine even had a GOP cover story last month with several articles on all Republican candidates (except Ron Paul). They did not mention Ron Paul once in the whole magazine. Very strange.

Clearly Ron Paul is the most exciting candidate in the race. I have never seen so much excitement and amazing events surrounding a candidate as Ron Paul. It really is a revolution in politics and is absolutely making history almost on a daily basis. Ron Paul has raised more money in a single day than any politician in history. And probably has more registered volunteers than any candidate in history. So there is no excuse to be covering Ron Paul. Below are some more newsworthy items.

Ron Paul tops other candidates:
- 4th quarter fundraising (at least for republicans)
- Fundraising records (6 million in one day)
- Volunteers (over 100,000 registered)
- GOP Straw poll wins
- Debate wins
- YouTube videos
- Online poll wins
- Web traffic (Google, etc.)
- Rally attendances
- Rock concerts
- Largest Blimp in America
- Decorated airplanes, boats, RV's, limos, cars
- More signs and bumper stickers (everywhere)
- etc.

This PBS video gives flavor of the excitement:

Americans are waking up and the internet provides a level playing field for truth to rise to the surface so we can start to elect representatives to Washington who will actually follow the Constitution for a change. The amazing thing is how well Ron Paul is doing in the face of such blatant election manipulation. Still I am hopeful that the internet and a new generation of informed young people may save this great nation by supporting and encouraging more 'Ron Paul Republicans' to run for congress.

"Rojecki does not think American voters will make the most informed decision during the primaries because the media has given minimal coverage of the candidates' stances on political issues."

So that indicates that the media *is* influencing people because they refuse to cover the substantial issues. No substance, just fluff and junk. Unfortunately, he's right. And if it keeps up, then perhaps intelligence tests and issue awareness test ought to be required to vote.

"According to “The Invisible Primary,” a report published by The Project for Excellence in Journalism in October 2007 that looked at media coverage during the early months of the 2008 presidential campaign, 63 percent of campaign stories focused on political and tactical aspects of the campaign, while only 15 percent focused on the candidates’ ideas and policy proposals."

There's the problem right there. 63% of the stories focused on who schmozzed with who where and who endorsed who where rather than what the candidates stand for. In other words, 63% of the reporting was junk. And people lap it up because they tend to be idiots and care not for the substance that matters. It's very frustrating to those of us that actually care.

I haven't seen an in-depth series of candidate position articles in print in years. It's all soundbites, Short-Attention-Span Theater, and op/ed masquerading as reporting.

The problem is that it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy: because most of America is still stuck on the last-millenium MSM, they don't see all the choices. The MSM turns around and complains that all of the choices "aren't newsworthy" and therefore don't cover them--conveniently ignoring two major points that 1) *the MSM* decides what's newsworthy (therefore they are censoring!) and t2) that covering political candidates is a public interest issue and not just normal news, and they have a public moral obligation to be impartial and fair to all national candidates.

The solution is for the media to pull their collective heads out of their @$$3$ and actually be fair and impartial in covering the candidates and not be the gatekeepers for who is a "viable" candidate and who is not. We saw that attitude in full display with that arrogant ought-to-be-fired-and-tarred-and-feathered punk Anderson Cooper last night at the CNN debate/amateur hour. In other words, they need to go back to reporting the news and not censoriing it. They may claim Free Press, but their corporate interest is second fiddle to my right to proper information, and corporations have no rights anyway.

Scott, you say the fact that Paul's poll numbers have remained flat despite his obvious popularity isn't news. Take a look at the recent LA Times survey instrument:

Somebody's name is missing from the survey questions. Thompson's and Giuliani's names are offered in the questions but not Paul's. Do you think this might help explain his poor performance in the poll. Do you think this might be newsworthy?

You say "a lot more people are interested in the horse-race stories than in the policy stories." How could you know? Where are the policy stories?

Thanks to Scott Martelle and the LA Times for providing a forum for this important and timely topic.


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About the Columnist
A veteran foreign and national correspondent, Andrew Malcolm has served on the L.A. Times Editorial Board and was a Pulitzer finalist in 2004. He is the author of 10 nonfiction books and father of four. Read more.
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