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It is not new to read complaints that Barack Obama has received kid glove treatment from his worshipers in the news media. It is rare to get quantitative verification.

According to the Center for Media and Public Affairs, President Obama wound up 2009 with balanced coverage — 49 percent positive, 51 percent negative which means Obama has received more favorable coverage than other recent presidents. On the other hand, since his “first 100 days” his coverage has become less favorable, but still more favorable than historical levels.

According to study director Dr. S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University, Barack Obama had his honeymoon, but now the party’s over. But there’s a silver lining — his coverage would be envied by other recent presidents.

This study covers 3859 news stories about the Obama administration that appeared on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening newscasts, the front page of the New York Times, and Time and Newsweek from January 20 through Dec 31, 2009. They also conducted a separate analysis of 1728 stories on the Fox News Channel Special Report.

Balanced Is Best During the first calendar year of his administration, President Obama’s mainstream media coverage was almost perfectly balanced 49% positive vs. 51% negative evaluations by sources and reporters. He fared best in the New York Times (54% positive) and the news magazines (53% positive) and worst on the three broadcast networks (46% positive).

By contrast, CMPA studies have found that other recent presidents fared badly in the media during their first year in office. On the broadcast networks, George W. Bush received only 23% positive evaluations (vs. 77% negative) in 2001; Bill Clinton had 28% positive evaluations in 1993; and Ronald Reagan had 26% positive evaluations in 1981.

Similarly, in a study of print coverage that combined the New York Times and Washington Post, first-year evaluations of Bush were 25% positive, Clinton’s evaluations were 30% positive, and Reagan’s were 23% positive. Thus, Obama’s balanced media coverage in 2009 was still about twice as positive as the coverage received by Bush and Reagan during comparable time periods.

Not mentioned in the study is that Clinton and Obama received more favorable press than Bush and Reagan, a confirmation of the media’s liberal bias.

Beginning in May, the President’s press has fallen back to earth and more and more negative press began to slip into the mix, although Obama’s positives are still higher than historical levels.

Bad Press Rising However, President Obama’s overall balance in good and bad press masks a sharp downturn after an early honeymoon period. Presidential evaluations from January through April were 59% positive (v. 41% negative), but they dropped to 46% positive from May through July and only 39% positive from August through December.

Positive Examples: The president promised change, and on this score he has delivered. Bryan Walsh, Time, October 5; He has made the country comfortable with himself as president.– Jeff Greenfield, CBS, April 26

Negative Examples: However much he has been on, he has not yet made the case [for health care reform]. Bob Schieffer, CBS, Sept 18; But today President Obama, in the eyes of a lot of environmentalists, fell short on that topic [global warming]. -Brian Williams, NBC, Sept 22.

Interestingly the coverage criticism has mirrored the polls which show the people don’t like many of Obama’s policies, the people like Obama as a person. When the press has bashed the POTUS’ policies, it has not criticized the POTUS

Policies Hit Hardest Mr. Obama’s policies have attracted more criticism than his personal leadership. During 2009 evaluations of the administration’s policies by reporters and sources were only 37% positive (vs. 63% negative)

The president’s economic stimulus plan garnered the best press 49% positive and the financial bailouts of various industries the worst 33% positive. On other issues, coverage of the administration’s general economic policy was 41% positive, coverage of health care reform was 39% positive, as was coverage of the war in Afghanistan, and the war on terror received 34% positive comments.

As you might expect Fox was more negative than the other networks (at least in the first half hour which is all that was measured). Fox’s 22% positive stories is closer to (but below) the numbers received by Reagan, Clinton, and Bush.

The FOX Factor President Obama fared far worse on Fox News Channel’s Special Report than on the broadcast networks or in the national press  only 22% positive (vs. 78% negative) evaluations. [We analyzed the first half-hour of Special Report, which most resembles the broadcast network newscasts in format.]

Unlike the other outlets we analyzed, FOX has been consistently negative in the tone of its coverage, with 21% positive evaluations from January through April, 19% positive from May through July, and 24% positive from August through December. Like the other outlets, FOX was most critical of Mr. Obama’s policies, which received only 14% positive evaluations. Negative Examples: ..the president’s story does not make any sense. Jim Angle, June 3; His quest to secure the 2016 Olympics for Chicago failed in spectacular fashion. Bret Baier, Oct 2

It would be interesting to see the Fox numbers compared to previous administrations.

In the end the numbers show that most of the mainstream media has been much more favorable to Barack Obama, then they have been to previous administrations. When networks claim their coverage has been 50% Positive/50% Negative, they are correct, but historically their coverage of first year presidents has been only 25% positive.   Fox coverage has been  more negative than network news has traditionally been to first year President’s but much closer to traditional levels than the other news sources.

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