October 27, 2004

The Debate Effect

Differences by Medium

There are also some differences in tone between different media. Newspapers were the most negative medium by a sizable margin. Fully 46% of newspaper stories carried a two-to-one negative cast, compared with 28% for network news and 30% for the two cable shows studied.

Even starker differences emerged in the treatment of different candidates.

Newspapers were the harshest in their tone about Bush. Fully 68% of Bush stories were overwhelmingly negative, while network news was the least negative toward the President (33%).

Network news was also the least negative toward Kerry (11%).

When it came to positive coverage, the networks overall were the most likely to produce sunnier Kerry stories. Cable, entirely due to the two weeks of Brit Hume programs studied, was the most likely to produce stories with a positive tone toward Bush.

While these samples of a single program are small, just two week’s worth, Hume’s show was also just as likely to produce positive stories about Kerry as was CNN’s Aaron Brown, but much less likely than newspapers or network news.

Some other differences by medium also stood out.

Newspapers tended to cover the race through a policy lens somewhat more than television, though still not much (16% in print versus 10% on TV).

Newspapers also tended to view the race somewhat less through political internals such as tactics and candidate performance than television (43% in print versus 73% on network news and 65% on cable.