Campaign coverage so far: mostly negative

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism has studied a 10-week period of coverage of the presidential race, tried to identify what it calls the news media’s “master narratives in the press about the character and record of presidential contenders” and finds that it is overwhelmingly negative (72 percent negative for President Obama, 71 percent negative for Mitt Romney).  As PEJ put it:

These numbers make this as negative a campaign as PEJ has seen since it began monitoring the master narratives about candidates in press coverage in presidential campaigns in 2000. Only one campaign has been comparable-2004 when coverage was filled with the controversy over the war in Iraq, the prison scandal at Abu Ghraib and the Swift Boat documentaries. That year, 70% of the personal narrative studied about Democrat John Kerry and 75% of that about incumbent George Bush was negative, numbers similar to now.

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Ross Williams on 08/23/2012 - 11:15 am.

    Media Bias

    Put another way, the 2008 and 2000 campaigns, where there was no incumbent running, were less negative than the two campaigns where there was an incumbent in the race. Is this really surprising?

  2. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 08/23/2012 - 12:46 pm.

    How do you motivate the truly undecided (quite likely apathetic and disengaged)?

    Fear or anger.

    Those are the relatively few votes that the zillions of dollars are focused on.

    That’s why lies are permissible. The target audience is unlikely to dig further, and the distortions and lies will not be called out by followers who are already invested in a candidate..

    And that is why the attacks, lies and distortions will increase into the days closer to the election.

    Besides, given that the Republican primary set a very low bar, it can get only worse.

  3. Submitted by Peder DeFor on 08/23/2012 - 12:49 pm.

    Most Negative

    This is easily the most negative that I can remember. Casual accusations of felonies and killing spouses probably top the list. Though Biden’s remarks about putting ‘y’all’ in chains is notably awful. And I know that the GOP doesn’t have clean hands either.
    This is still kind of mild compared to some of the 19th century ones though.

  4. Submitted by Ginny Martin on 08/23/2012 - 01:24 pm.


    What is the definition of “negative”? Some things are both true and negative; some things are partly true and negative. It would be good if the negatives and positives could be correlated with FACTCHECK.

  5. Submitted by Connie Sullivan on 08/23/2012 - 01:56 pm.

    It’s hard to know if this article is about negative campaigning (negative attack ads by one political campaign against the other, including the negative ads paid for by anonymous PACs), or whether–as it says–it’s only about MEDIA COVERAGE of the campaigns being negative. Black uses the powerful post-modern literary theoretical term “master narrative” to say that the media, not the campaigns, are presenting negative stories, negative candidate images and story arcs, about the campaign.

    Two different things. None of the above responses actually understands what a master narrative is, if–as the article says–its the media creating and retelling a master narrative, not the campaigns..

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