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Study Finds Negative Media Political Coverage--Especially for Gore

November 01, 2000|JEFF LEEDS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Al Gore received decidedly more negative media coverage than George W. Bush did during the fall campaign period, according to a study released Tuesday.

The two presidential candidates received about the same amount of coverage, said the study from the Project for Excellence in Journalism. But about 24% of the stories about Bush were positive, compared to 13% for Gore. Among stories dealing equally with both candidates, 12% treated Gore negatively, while only 8% cast Bush in a negative light.

One way Gore suffered was by not performing up to press expectations during the presidential debates, the report found.

The study, which was conducted with Princeton Survey Research Associates, reviewed 1,149 stories from four newspapers (the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Portland Oregonian and the Orlando Sentinel), eight television news programs and five Web sites. It looked at coverage during September and October.

Overall, it found coverage of both candidates has been predominantly negative over the last month, with the majority of stories containing at least twice as many negative assertions as positive ones.

Tom Rosenstiel, director of the project and a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times, said the results suggest "the press may be somewhat cynical about the public. They think the public isn't really interested in ideas. No matter what they say, journalists sort of hesitate to write policy stories because they think no one will read them."

Rosenstiel said that when the coverage turns to the candidates, it winds up conveying a negative tone because Bush and Gore are "two somewhat flawed candidates."

Rosenstiel cited Bush's relative lack of experience in public office and Gore's own admission that he isn't an exciting candidate.

Another reason the coverage seems so negative, he said, is that the study, unlike some in the past, includes stories posted on such Web sites as Salon, Slate and National Review Online. At least 60% of the stories on those sites carried a negative tone, the study found, compared to 53% of newspaper articles and 41% of TV news stories.

But the two major candidates--who are relying most heavily on media coverage to communicate with voters at this stage of the race--had no complaints.

Ray Sullivan, a Bush spokesman, said, "Overall, I know Gov. Bush is pleased with his interaction with the media and with the general coverage of the campaign."

Douglas Hattaway, a Gore spokesman, said, "We don't complain about our coverage."

Of all the stories, about 57% focused on the internal dynamics of campaigning. About 29% dealt with issues and 13% focused on the candidates' character or record.

"Politicians view their relationship with the press as a sort of battle for message," Rosenstiel said. "At the very least, Gore has had a harder time getting his message out."

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