Media Runs Hot for Kerry, Cold for Bush

Mainstream news organizations may "filter" the news, as President George W. Bush claimed late last year, not to omit good stories from their Iraq coverage, but to broadcast more negative news about the president himself, according to a report released today by MediaChannel.org and Media Tenor.

The report reveals a strong negative cast to ABC, CBS and NBC news coverage of the president thus far in 2004. Meanwhile, Senator John Kerry, Bush's certain opponent for November, has received more positive coverage by the same three networks.

According to data compiled for MediaChannel.org by international media monitoring firm Media Tenor, network news broadcasts in January and February contained on average nearly three times more negative news statements about President Bush than about Senator John Kerry.

During these two months, the networks devoted the bulk of their reporting on Kerry to the candidate's string of victories in early primaries and caucuses. Network coverage of President Bush during this period tended to focus on questions about his WMD intelligence in the run-up to the war with Iraq, his military service record during the Vietnam War, analysis of his performance during the State of the Union address and comparisons of his re-election campaign with the hotly contested race involving Democratic candidates.

Of the 2,895 statements made about Bush during the nightly half-hour network broadcasts, Media Tenor analysts counted 834 (or 28.8 percent) of statements as negative. Only 10.4 percent of the 1191 network statements about Senator Kerry were negative.

Over the same period, the networks shone a more benevolent light on Kerry. In the first two months of the year, more than 35 percent (or 422 of 1191 statements) of network coverage of Kerry was counted as positive. Bush's positive coverage rating amounted to only 11.9 percent of the total statements made about the president during the half-hour network broadcasts.

CBS Evening News with Dan Rather leads the networks in negative coverage of the president and positive coverage of Kerry. More than 35 percent of the Bush-related statements made during CBS' nightly broadcast portrayed the president in a negative way. Only 8.9 percent of Bush coverage on CBS was counted as positive.

By comparison, ABC World News Tonight with Peter Jennings was more neutral towards the president. Media Tenor rated ABC's Bush coverage as 22.7 percent negative, 12 percent positive and 65 percent neutral.

CBS shone more brightly than the other networks when covering Senator Kerry. Media Tenor classified more than 38 percent of their coverage of the Democratic candidate as positive, ABC and NBC's news programs were positive on Kerry 33.4 and 35.9 percent of the time, respectively.

"Bush continues not to be able to leave a convincing impression on TV news," said Roland Schatz, president of Media Tenor. "While the president received the largest share of media coverage against the field of Democratic candidates, the focus was on negative, not positive, stories about Bush."

Media Tenor analysts pore over transcripts and watch the half hour-broadcasts to classify news statements as negative, positive or neutral. Their data for the first two months of 2004 show that more than 55 percent of all statements about the candidates were neutral -- or neither negative nor positive towards the candidate. When considering the remainder of statements, President Bush received far fewer high marks than his likely opponent did for November.

MediaChannel earlier this week shared the data via fax with the anchors and executives at NBC Nightly News, ABC World News Tonight CBS Evening News. They have yet to reply to requests for comment.

Timothy Karr is executive director of MediaChannel.org.

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