The Debate Effect
A PEJ study on how the press covered the pivotal period of the 2004 Presidential Campaign.
Tone of Media Coverage of Bush and Gore Debates, 2000
The tone of all media stories both about Gore and those focused more on Bush tended to be negative in 2000, but Gore’s coverage was more so. Bush stories were also nearly twice as likely to be positive as were those about Gore.
How the Media Framed the Campaign
The dominant frame in the press coverage of the presidential debates of 2004 was on the impact of the debates on the horse race. , followed by a straight forward account of what the candidates said.
Sourcing of Campaign Stories on Online News Sites
Different online news sites approached covering the debates of 2004 differently, but of the major ones, only MSNBC had a significant number of original bylined stories.
Tone of Media Coverage of Bush and Kerry Debates, 2004
The tone of the press coverage of the debates in 2004 was highly negative for Presidential Bush. Nearly 60% of the stories were critical of the President, more than twice the percentage for challenger John Kerry.
How Newspapers Framed the Race
In print, the impact of the debates on the horse race was still a dominant theme, but regional papers were more likely to simply report what the candidates said than national papers were, and other themes got more attention than they did on television.
Who Newspaper Stories Impacted
The insider horse race focus of the debate coverage in 2004 is evident in who the stories talked about being impacted. Only about a quarter of newspaper stories focused on things that would directly affect citizens in the debates, such as policy positions.
Who Was Covered in Newspapers
Most of the newspaper stories of the presidential debates focused on both candidates.
Tone of Newspaper Coverage of Kerry and Bush
Nearly seven out of ten newspaper stories about Bush’s debate performance were negative, compared with three out of ten about Kerry. This was similar to what people saw on television.
Dominant Frame in Candidate-Focused Newspaper Stories
Newspapers framed stories that focused on Bush in the debates on how they affected his standing in the horse race. Stories about Kerry were just as likely, in contrast, to be straight forward news accounts of what was said.