Pew Analysis: Media Accentuate Negative in Presidential Campaign

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The news media's portrayal of the character and records of the two presidential candidates has been primarily negative, according to a new Pew Research Center content analysis of a 10-week period from May 29 to Aug. 5. In addition, campaign ad themes do not appear to be translating into the news narrative.

The study found that 72% of the coverage of Obama has been negative, versus 71% of the coverage of Mitt Romney.

The most prevalent negative assertions about President Obama in those stories on talk programs have been that the administration has failed to do enough to fix the economy. Romney's biggest knock was that he was a "callous 'vulture' capitalist."

"As the candidates try to re-introduce themselves to voters, the study shows that the press has delivered these voters a remarkably negative story for both Obama and Romney," said PEJ associate director Mark Jurkowitz, in a statement. Pew said the campaign coverage has been more negative than in 2008 and 2000, and comparable to the 2004 campaign that prominently featured the "Swift Boat" attacks on John Kerry.

The study also found that more of what the public hears about candidates is coming from the campaigns, rather than journalists acting as reporters, which it suggests may be a factor of news cutbacks.

According to the Pew analysis, only 3% of assertions about President Obama included the idea that he cares about regular folks, which has been one of his major ad messages. Romney ads have been promoting his ability to fix economic problems -- the Olympics, the Massachusetts budget when he was governor -- but the study found that only 10% of assertions affirmed that, while almost as many, 8%, disputed that claim.

The study highlights coverage on three major cable news nets, pointing out that Fox News Channel and MSNBC are mirror images of one another, while CNN is more in line with the media narrative in the general national news population.

According to the study, while Fox News has provided a "mixed" view of Romney (actually more negative assertions [56%, than positive [44%], its assessment of President Obama's record and character have been negative by a ratio of six to one (86% negative to 14% positive). MSNBC, by contrast, has been about as critical of Romney (88% negative to 12% positive), while its Obama assertions only slightly more positive (54%) than negative (46%).