These are the key findings of the Media Research Center’s exhaustive analysis of ABC, CBS and NBC evening news coverage of Barack Obama — every story, every soundbite, every mention — from his first appearance on a network broadcast in May 2000 through the end of the Democratic primaries in June 2008, a total of 1,365 stories. MRC analysts found that the networks’ coverage — particularly prior to the formal start of Obama’s presidential campaign — bordered on giddy celebration of a political "rock star" rather than objective newsgathering.
# The three broadcast networks treated Obama to nearly seven times more good press than bad — 462 positive stories (34% of the total), compared with only 70 stories (just 5%) that were critical.
# NBC Nightly News was the most lopsided, with 179 pro-Obama reports (37%), more than ten times the number of anti-Obama stories (17, or 3%). The CBS Evening News was nearly as skewed, with 156 stories spun in favor of Obama (38%), compared to a mere 21 anti-Obama reports (5%). ABC’s World News was the least slanted, but still tilted roughly four-to-one in Obama’s favor (127 stories to 32, or 27% to 7%).
# Barack Obama received his best press when it mattered most, as he debuted on the national scene. All of the networks lavished him with praise when he was keynote speaker at the 2004 Democratic Convention, and did not produce a single negative story about Obama (out of 81 total reports) prior to the start of his presidential campaign in early 2007.
# The networks downplayed or ignored major Obama gaffes and scandals. Obama’s relationship with convicted influence peddler Tony Rezko was the subject of only two full reports (one each on ABC and NBC) and mentioned in just 15 other stories. CBS and NBC also initially downplayed controversial statements from Obama’s longtime pastor Jeremiah Wright, but heavily praised Obama’s March 18 speech on race relations.
# While Obama’s worst media coverage came during the weeks leading up to the Pennsylvania primary on April 22, even then the networks offered two positive stories for every one that carried a negative spin (21% to 9%). Obama’s best press of the year came after he won the North Carolina primary on May 6 — after that, 43 percent of stories were favorable to Obama, compared to just one percent that were critical.
# The networks minimized Obama’s liberal ideology, only referring to him as a "liberal" 14 times in four years. In contrast, reporters found twice as many occasions (29) to refer to Obama as either a "rock star," "rising star" or "superstar" during the same period.
# In covering the campaign, network reporters highlighted voters who offered favorable opinions about Obama. Of 147 average citizens who expressed an on-camera opinion about Obama, 114 (78%) were pro-Obama, compared to just 28 (19%) that had a negative view, with the remaining five offering a mixed opinion.
Spot the error?
Well, if you wanted to make the case that Obama received preferential treatment during the primaries what would you logically need? A point of comparison maybe? If we could compare Obama's coverage with Clinton's and saw a large discrepancy wouldn't that provide compelling evidence, particularly given the close nature of the contest at hand?
As is, the best this report can be is suggestive of a media fawning over Obama, but it leaves out too much data to be considered conclusive.