Wednesday, October 29, 2008

McCain's Base

In the 2000 Republican presidential primary, Senator McCain and his campaign staffers used to joke that "the press is our base". McCain had long had favorable relations with the press, particularly when he bucked his party on various issues, and that continued during his insurgent primary campaign against then-Governor George W. Bush. McCain enjoyed some favorable press during this year's Republican primary as well, but once the general election campaign between McCain and Senator Obama began, McCain's press 'base' largely deserted him. The Pew Research Center study released last week provides some evidence of this (see: "Canvasing Campaign Media: An Analysis of Time, Tone and Topics"; the histogram above comes from this study). According to the Pew study,

In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three-to-one [...]

The Pew Research Center study summary report asks whether media bias has played a role in this negative coverage,

One question likely to be posed is whether these findings provide evidence that the news media are pro-Obama. Is there some element in these numbers that reflects a rooting by journalists for Obama and against McCain, unconscious or otherwise?

Maybe not, says Pew:

The data do not provide conclusive answers. They do offer a strong suggestion that winning in politics begets winning coverage, thanks in part to the relentless tendency of the press to frame its coverage of national elections as running narratives about the relative position of the candidates in the polls and internal tactical maneuvering to alter those positions.

Many conservatives have long complained that since most journalists tend to be Democrats, the mainstream media is inherently biased against conservatives (although they are sometimes more tolerant of liberal Republicans). This week the Washington Post Company's online magazine Slate was open enough to publish a piece detailing who its staff members and contributors were supporting in the upcoming presidential election. The results won't do anything to assuage conservative complaints of media bias: 55 Slate staff members and contributors are supporting Obama, versus 1 (Deputy Managing Editor and Copy Chief Rachel Larimore, who hopefully doesn't have to eat lunch by herself) supporting McCain (you can read their explanations of their votes here, "How we're voting: Obama wins Slate in a landslide").

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