Findings from a new media study indicating Republican Mitt Romney has received substantially better press coverage this year than President Obama may have surprised some observers. It certainly agitated conservative activists who relentlessly promote the idea of a left-leaning press corps that works in tandem with the Democratic Party, and according to Fox News, is covering for Obama.
Just last week Bill O'Reilly complained that the “liberal media” “wants to re-elect President Obama.” That kind of rhetoric has become as natural as breathing for a conservative movement that's built its base since 2008 around the singular claim that the liberal media has rolled over for Obama.
Indeed, the “liberal media” accusation has been a cornerstone to American conservatism for forty years. It's actually grown into a cottage industry that pays the bills for talk radio, fills endless hours of commentary on Fox News, and produces content for right-wing authors.
So naturally, if there's a Democratic president in the White House, openly biased journalists must have their thumbs on the scales, right? Obama must be benefiting from warm praise and soft coverage. Meaning, now is the time for conservatives to prove definitively that their claims about the slanted press are true.
Except that, of course, they are not.
The results of the latest survey from the nonpartisan Pew Research Center Project for Excellence in Journalism should not come as a shock. If you look back on Pew's ongoing research, it indicates the “liberal media” hasn't given Obama a single week's worth of positive news coverage in the ten months Pew has conducted its study.
It's true that in the past some observers (including Media Matters) have questioned the usefulness of similar press coverage studies. But conservatives themselves have cited Pew reports to bolster their claims about a liberally bias media. Republican press critics are likely regretting that now.
For instance, last October Pew released a media survey that looked at news coverage stretching back to May. Its conclusion was that Obama had been on the receiving end of “unrelentingly negative” coverage:
The assessments of the president in the media were substantially more negative than positive in every one of the 23 weeks studied. In no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the President positive in tone.
In 2011, only candidate Newt Gingrich, whose campaign was floundering at the time, received more negative press than Obama did during the time frame studied by Pew. Indeed, the firm reported that between May and October, “negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-to-1.”
As for Pew's latest findings, which covered from January to early April, the trend continued:
Of all the presidential candidates studied in this report, only one figure did not have a single week in 2012 when positive coverage exceeded negative coverage--the incumbent, Democrat Barack Obama.
The Pew findings have been clear: While Republicans have jockeyed for their party's nomination for the last year, the Democratic president has been hammered with negative press coverage. And it's coverage whose harsh tone has been matched only by its week-in and week-out consistency.
Behold the liberal media.