Study: Big 3 television net­work news pro­grams tilt against GOP

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Jen­nifer Harper

The Big Three television net­works have used un­prece­dented midterm elec­tion cov­er­age to bash the Repub­li­can Party with neg­a­tive sto­ries, and plenty of them, a study says.

Only 12 per­cent of elec­tion sto­ries that aired on NBC, ABC or CBS were fa­vor­able to­ward Repub­li­can can­di­dates, ac­cord­ing to a study re­leased Oct. 31 by the Wash­ing­ton, D.C.-based Cen­ter for Me­dia and Pub­lic Af­fairs (CMPA).

In con­trast, Democrats basked in glory. The study found that 77 per­cent of the news ac­counts be­tween Sept. 5 and Oct. 22 of­fered fa­vor­able eval­u­a­tions of Demo­cratic can­di­dates and law­mak­ers.

“Th­ese num­bers are pretty strik­ing,” said Robert Lichter, di­rec­tor of CMPA, a non­par­ti­san re­searcher of news and en­ter­tain­ment me­dia. “The cov­er­age has be­come a ref­er­en­dum on Repub­li­can lead­er­ship. The big ques­tion for all three net­works is this: Why are the Repub­li­cans in trou­ble and how bad is it go­ing to get?”

While midterms typ­i­cally gar­ner only tepid in­ter­est from broad­cast­ers, the net­works have dra­mat­i­cally ramped up their cov­er­age this time around, pro­vid­ing 167 sto­ries dur­ing the study pe­riod. Only 35 sto­ries had been aired dur­ing a com­pa­ra­ble time in 2002.

The net­works have fix­ated on a trio of story themes. The CMPA study found that the res­ig­na­tion of for­mer Florida con­gress­man Mark Fo­ley dom­i­nated the midterm cov­er­age, pro­duc­ing 59 sto­ries, com­pared with the war in Iraq, which in­spired 33, and na­tional se­cu­rity or the threat of ter­ror­ism, which pro­duced 31 sto­ries.

Other is­sues of po­ten­tial im­por­tance to vot­ers — the econ­omy or re­dis­trict­ing, for ex­am­ple — got short shrift, such top­ics earn­ing men­tion in six or fewer sto­ries.

Spec­u­lat­ing on voter be­hav­ior is also pop­u­lar on the net­works.

“An­other big ques­tion they ask is this: What is it the pub­lic is re­ject­ing, and what are they so an­gry about?” Mr. Lichter added.

“CBS Evening News” an­chor Katie Couric, for ex­am­ple, said on Oct. 31 that 2006 would prove a “wave elec­tion, where pub­lic dis­sat­is­fac­tion changes the po­lit­i­cal en­vi­ron­ment” and “in­cum­bents are washed away.”

On NBC, Brian Wil­liams led a re­port from Ohio with the phrase, “Could this red state end up go­ing blue?” ABC News’ Jake Tap­per also show­cased Ohio vot­ers, say­ing they showed “an ex­tra layer of dis­il­lu­sion with the Repub­li­can Party.”

Like neg­a­tive cam­paign ads, neg­a­tive news re­ports may have a de­struc­tive re­bound ef­fect on a fickle view­ing pub­lic.

“For the past week, the main­stream me­dia has run story af­ter story about the nas­ti­ness of this year’s cam­paign ads — per­haps as a way to dis­tract our at­ten­tion from their own dirty tricks,” ob­served Stephen Spruiell of Na­tional Re­view On­line on Oct. 31.

“View­ers can get sick of neg­a­tive TV cov­er­age. They con­sis­tently rate the news cov­er­age as one of the worst parts of a cam­paign, specif­i­cally cit­ing neg­a­tive con­tent,” Mr. Lichter said. And its go­ing to get worse in the shrill runup to Nov. 7.

“The GOP is the story, and they’re caught in an echo cham­ber,” he added.

AP

Cozy with some, frosty with Repub­li­cans: CBS Evening News an­chor Katie Couric in­ter­views Michael J. Fox about his po­lit­i­cal ads for stem cell re­search on Oct. 26.

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