April 30, 2001

The First 100 Days

The Tactical Clinton vs. The Ideological Bush

Perhaps in part encouraged by Clinton's initial missteps, and Bush's seeming surefootedness, or perhaps because of a sense of one man being so clever, and the other being less so, the press clearly framed more of the Clinton coverage around maneuvering. Indeed, one of the most striking differences in the overall coverage of the two presidents is that nearly a quarter (22%) of all Clinton stories were framed around possible tactics, motives and strategy for what he did. For Bush, only 14% of stories were framed around these matters.

In contrast, nearly half of all Bush stories, 48%, were framed as explaining where he wants to take the country. For Clinton, only about a third, just 35%, were framed around his agenda.

In almost all other areas, the way in which stories were framed was essentially identical, though there was a slightly higher percentage of "reality check" stories assessing the veracity of what Clinton said than Bush (5% of Clinton stories, versus 2% for Bush).

This tendency to view Clinton as tactical and Bush as ideological is even more pronounced when the press was specifically evaluating each president's ideology and policies. The press was twice as likely to frame stories about Clinton's agenda around his tactics than they were for Bush (15% of Clinton policy assessment stories, 6% for Bush).

Most Common Journalistic Frames
 
Policy explained 48% 35%
Tactics and strategy 14 22
Battleground 14 11
Performance 13 13
Historical outlook/trend  3  5
All other  8 14
Total 100 100

One reason may be that the Bush team, older, and more experienced, is already gaining a reputation for being tight-lipped about how policy is formed. The young Clinton team earned something of a reputation in Washington for talking openly about their strategy, a foolish kind of bragging.

Another reason may be a general distrust on the part of the press toward Clinton's ideological consistency, which was developing from the earliest days.