Study: Networks Gave Fawning Coverage to Obama

By Fred Lucas | August 21, 2008 | 6:52 PM EDT

Lee Cowan’s “infectious” feelings and Chris Matthews’ “thrill” helped NBC lead the way in positive coverage for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.

( – Lee Cowan’s “infectious” feelings and Chris Matthews’ “thrill” helped NBC lead the way in positive coverage for Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama.
But the other two major networks weren’t far behind in a study of 1,365 network news stories going back to May 17, 2000, the date of Obama’s first appearance on CBS Evening News, through early June 2008, when the Illinois senator secured the Democratic nomination.
The study was released Wednesday by the Media Research Center, a conservative media watchdog and the parent organization of The study is titled, “Obama’s Margin of Victory: The Media,” pointing out that he beat his Democratic rival New York Sen. Hillary Clinton in the primaries by one-tenth of one percent,
“Perhaps if he had faced serious journalistic scrutiny instead of media cheerleading, Barack Obama might still have won his party’s nomination,” the report says. “But the tremendously positive coverage that the networks bestowed upon his campaign was of incalculable value. The early celebrity coverage helped make Obama a nationally-known figure with a near-perfect media image.”
The study showed that on “NBC Nightly News,” Obama had 10 times more positive stories than negative stories. “CBS Evening News” was bent toward Obama by seven to one, while ABC News was the least lopsided with four times as many pro-Obama stories as negative.
Overall, the networks gave Obama 462 positive stories compared to 70 stories that were critical, a 34 percent to 5 percent ratio. In other findings, the study showed that networks minimized Obama’s ideology, describing him as liberal just 14 times in four years, but calling him a either a “rock star,” “rising star” or “superstar” 29 times.
Meanwhile, of the 147 average citizens interviewed about Obama, 78 percent were pro-Obama, and 19 percent were unfavorable.
This study comes after two separate polls showed the public thinks reporters are trying to help Obama become get elected and while the Project for Excellence in Journalism reports that Obama has received overwhelmingly more coverage than his Republican opponent Arizona Sen. John McCain in TV and print.
The study showed that before the Iowa Caucuses, Obama’s positive to negative story ratio was 30 percent to 6 percent.
After the Iowa victory, ABC’s Charles Gibson asked on air, “How do you run against hope?”
Before Super Tuesday, that shot up to 42 percent to 5 percent. His lowest point came during the Rev. Jeremiah Wright stories, when the positive to negative ratio was 21 percent to 9 percent. In the final month, the ratio was 43 percent to 1 percent.
The study cites the networks for “insulating Obama from Reverend Wright.”
After Obama tried to head off the Wright matter with a speech in Philadelphia, the networks seemed to swoon, the report says. CBS anchor Katie Couric said, “Barack Obama addresses the controversial comments of his pastor, condemning the words but not the man. And he calls on all Americans to work for a more perfect union.”
NBC’s Cowan reported “in the City of Brotherly Love, Barack Obama gave the most extensive and most intensely personal speech on race he has ever given.”
It was after that speech that Matthews, commenting on MSNBC said he “felt this thrill going up my leg.”
The study shows only two stories covered Obama’s close relationship with real estate developer Tony Rezko (who was convicted earlier this year of wire fraud and money laundering), one on NBC by Lisa Myers, the other on ABC by Brian Ross.
The study highlights several quotes from network news reporters and anchors that lavish praise on Obama.
Cowan said of Obama in January, “From a reporter’s point of view, it’s almost hard to remain objective because it’s infectious, the energy, I think.”
ABC reporter Terry Moran said on “Nightline” in November 2006, “You can see it in the crowds, the thrill, the hope. How they surge toward him. … And the question you can sense on everyone’s mind, as they listen so intently to him: Is he the one.”
After Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) endorsed Obama for president in late January, reporter David Wright on ABC’s “World News Tonight,” said, “And today, the audacity of hope had its rendezvous with destiny. The Kennedy clan anointed Barack Obama a son of Camelot.”
After Obama secured the nomination, CBS reporter Byron Pitts declared, “Barack Obama and his wife Michelle walked into history’s arms last night. … Just like JFK’s journey as the first Catholic president, America crossed a milestone. … One of America’s oldest and ugliest color lines has been broken, and there’s a new bridge for a new generation.”