Study Finds Morning News Shows Promote Democrats Significantly More Than Republicans

Here is a very interesting article about political bias in network TV news coverage. I was going to write a blog on it, but instead, I though I would just include an abridged version of the article. It’s kind of lengthy, but if you want to tackle the complete report, click here.

Rise and Shine on Democrats
How the ABC, CBS and NBC Morning Shows Are Promoting Democrats On the Road to the White House

By Rich Noyes
MRC Research Director

In the coming months, Democratic and Republican primary voters will gather to choose their nominees for President of the United States. Unlike most election years, no incumbent is on the ballot this time, leaving both parties with wide-open nomination contests. The large number of candidates in each race leaves voters with much to learn about the many competitors’ biographies, records, stances on issues, and personal character.

But are the broadcast networks providing roughly equivalent coverage of both the Democratic and Republican races? Or are liberal journalists giving more broadcast airtime and more favorable coverage to the leading Democratic candidates, handing that party an advantage going into next year’s campaign season?

To find out, a team of Media Research Center analysts examined all campaign stories on the three broadcast network morning programs from January 1 to July 31, 2007… Unlike the networks’ evening newscasts, the two- and three-hour long morning shows can spend far more time delving into a candidates’ record (Good Morning America, for example, has already hosted two town hall-style meetings with candidates). And, unlike the networks’ Sunday morning shows, the three morning shows are not geared toward political junkies, but rather the everyday voters that campaigns seek to reach. Consequently, the broadcast morning shows are a prime battleground in the candidates’ competition for media attention and positive coverage.

Our analysts tabulated the total amount of coverage given to the two nomination races and each of the candidates, including all field reports, interviews and brief news items. Then the analysts conducted a more detailed examination of each interview with either one of the candidates or a designated surrogate (usually the candidate’s spouse), and tallied the airtime…The results show that all three of the network morning shows are a favorable media forum for the Democratic candidates, and more forbidding terrain for the Republicans.

TV’s Morning Shows Throw Their Spotlight on the Democrats

With Election Day well over a year away, the presidential campaign has already gotten off to a strong start on the Big Three morning shows. From January 1 to July 31, MRC analysts tallied 517 campaign items on the weekday editions of ABC’s Good Morning America, CBS’s Early Show and NBC’s Today. About two-thirds of these items (345) were long segments — either full reports from field correspondents or interviews with candidates or analysts. The remaining 172 items were relatively brief discussions of the campaign, mainly short anchor-read news stories.

Overall, the networks offered nearly twice as much coverage of the Democratic primary race than the Republican contest. More than half of all campaign segments (284, or 55%) focused on the Democrats, compared with just 152 (29%) devoted to the Republican candidates. Another 13 percent (66 stories) contained discussions of both parties, while 15 stories (3% of the total) focused on a possible independent candidacy of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

While all three networks gave more attention to the Democrats, ABC’s Good Morning America was the most tilted, with more than twice as many segments on the Democrats (119, or 62% of their campaign stories) than on the Republicans (51 stories, or 26% of ABC’s total). CBS’s Early Show featured Democrats in more than half of their campaign news (75 stories, or 54%), compared to less than a third that featured Republicans (44 stories, or 31%). Meanwhile, just under half of the coverage on NBC’s Today (90 stories, or 49%) featured Democrats, compared to 57 stories (31%) about the GOP.

The skew in favor of the Democratic race has been evident all year. In January, the networks all excitedly jumped on the announcements that Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton would join the race, contributing to a total of 52 Democratic stories that month. In contrast, the GOP contest garnered just five stories that month, a ten-to-one imbalance.

As the accompanying chart shows, the networks’ inordinate emphasis on the Democratic nomination contest continued in February and March, with nearly twice as many stories on the Democrats than on the Republicans. In April, the gap between the two parties actually narrowed, and in May — thanks to coverage of the first major Republican debate — the networks actually spent more time on the GOP, though not by much. In June and July, however, the gap between the two parties once again grew, with Democrats receiving more than twice as much coverage in July (52 stories vs. 22).

While about one-third of stories focused on more than one candidate — such as debate stories, or items about a verbal exchange between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, for example — about two-thirds emphasized a single candidate. Remarkably, all three of the Democratic frontrunners — Clinton, Obama and John Edwards — were each the subject of more of these single-candidate stories than each of the three of the Republican front-runners, Rudy Giuliani, John McCain and Mitt Romney. Interestingly, the networks also aired more stories about the never-declared candidacy of former Democratic Vice President Al Gore than the actual candidacies of Republicans Romney and Giuliani.

Hillary Clinton: Not only has Senator Clinton received more media attention than any other candidate from either party (61 stories), hers has been the only campaign where staffers have been welcomed on the morning shows as substitutes for the candidate, an indulgence normally reserved for sitting presidents or actual nominees. The networks also frequently touted Clinton’s “inevitability” to receive the Democrat Party nomination.

John Edwards: While former Democratic vice presidential nominee John Edwards ranked second only to Hillary Clinton in overall coverage (44 stories), the morning shows seemed more interested in Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth, than his presidential campaign.

Barack Obama: In the race for the network spotlight, the junior Senator from Illinois was close behind John Edwards, with 41 morning show segments featuring Barack Obama. The early coverage of his campaign was effusive. “He’s today the political equivalent of a rock star,” CBS’s Gloria Borger trumpeted on the January 17 Early Show, adding: “An appearance by Obama looks like a mosh pit.” The next day, NBC’s Matt Lauer agreed: “He’s got rock star buzz around him.”

John McCain: A favorite of campaign reporters during the 2000 campaign, the network morning shows have given McCain more coverage than any of his GOP rivals (31 stories), but only about half as much as Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton.

Al Gore: Like Republican Fred Thompson, the ex-Vice President was not an announced candidate during the seven months we studied, and unlike Thompson gave no strong sign that he even planned to run. Yet Gore was featured in 29 network stories casting him as a potential presidential candidate in 2008, more coverage than most of the actual candidates.

Rudy Giuliani: In spite of his frontrunner status, the former New York City mayor has received surprisingly little coverage, just 26 items. In contrast to the heavy coverage of Edwards’, Clinton’s and Obama’s announcements, ABC and NBC offered only a quick anchor brief when Giuliani made it official on CNN’s Larry King Live in February. Only CBS offered something approaching a full segment that day. Interestingly, the networks used the “liberal” label 12 times to describe Giuliani’s views, particularly on social issues. In contrast, the entire Democratic field has been termed “liberal” just twice during the same period (with one label for Obama and another for New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson).

Mitt Romney: Former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney and Democrat John Edwards seem to occupy about the same tier in their respective parties. Both trail in national polls by significant margins, but are at or near the top in the earliest states — Edwards in Iowa, Romney in both Iowa and New Hampshire. Yet Romney was featured in just 19 morning show segments, less than half the coverage given to Edwards.

Joe Biden: Delaware Senator Joe Biden, a frequent morning show guest over the years, received more coverage than the other bottom-tier Democrats (16 stories), but nothing like the warm reception given to his party’s three frontrunners.

Mike Bloomberg: Amid suggestions that the billionaire mayor of New York City might run as a self-financed independent, the networks saw great significance in Bloomberg’s decision in June to leave the Republican Party that he’d joined only to run for mayor in 2001.The media boomlet for Bloomberg generated 15 stories in June and July, giving the non-candidate more coverage than many of the announced contenders.

Fred Thompson: After his name surfaced as a potential, if not likely presidential candidate, the networks made it clear that they thought former Tennessee Senator Fred Thompson had the potential to win it all. Yet for all of the Law & Order star’s potential political heft, the networks have spent less time on Thompson (11 stories) than more liberal possibilities such as Gore and Bloomberg.

Morning TV Interviews: Much More Time for Democrats

When it came to airtime, the Democratic advantage was even more pronounced. Interviews with the various Democratic campaigns totaled 275 minutes of coverage, or roughly four and a half hours. In contrast, the Republicans garnered only 104 minutes of morning show airtime (1 hour, 44 minutes), a greater than two-to-one disparity. (The two interviews with Bloomberg totaled just over nine minutes.)

When one looks solely at interviews with the candidates themselves (excluding their husbands, wives or other spokesmen), the gap shrinks only somewhat. The Democratic candidates still commanded more than three and a half hours of airtime (214 minutes), while the Republicans received just over an hour and a half (97 minutes).

Once again, the networks lavished the most attention on the three Democratic front-runners, with New York Senator Hillary Clinton leading the pack with nearly 90 minutes of airtime. Clinton herself accounted for about two-thirds (62 minutes) of her campaign’s exposure on the morning shows, but the networks also hosted her campaign chairman Terry McAuliffe, her spokesman Howard Wolfson, a group of her top female staffers, and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

The networks gave Clinton’s Democratic rival John Edwards’s campaign more than an hour of airtime this year (65 minutes), with more than two-thirds (45 minutes) going to the candidate himself (with the rest going to his wife, Elizabeth). Illinois Senator Barack Obama’s campaign gained 53 minutes of face time with morning show viewers — 40 minutes for the candidate, and the rest for his wife, Michelle.

Former Vice President Al Gore was a network guest eight times, getting more than 48 minutes of airtime. (MRC analysts only counted interviews in which a potential Gore presidential campaign was discussed.) Once again, the non-candidate Gore eclipsed the major GOP candidates, as the networks gave less airtime to the campaigns of former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney (40 minutes) and Arizona Senator John McCain (35 minutes).

The networks hosted second-tier Democratic candidate Joe Biden four times (19 minutes), making him a more visible morning show presence than GOP frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, who was interviewed three times (17 minutes). Interestingly, Giuliani has yet to appear on CBS’s Early Show this year, a show on which Al Gore has appeared four times.

Rounding out the field, potential GOP candidate Newt Gingrich, and declared Republicans Tom Tancredo and Mike Huckabee have each been interviewed once this year. None of the other Republican or Democratic candidates has made an appearance on a network morning show through July 31.

Conclusion: The Networks Must Find Their Balance

In spite of the heavy activity seen thus far, Campaign 2008 is far from over. If history is an accurate guide, the networks will provide their heaviest coverage of the primary campaigns in January and February; then a long campaign between the two party nominees will commence, with the heaviest news coverage of the two party conventions and the fall debates.

Yet the first seven months of this campaign already provide evidence of a disturbing tilt in network news coverage. It’s long been established that most of the top network reporters and other members of the media elite hold mainly liberal policy views and vote overwhelmingly for Democrats on Election Day. This study shows that the networks are focusing much more of their time and energy covering the Democratic nomination race than the Republican contest, and are more frequently opening their airwaves to the Democratic candidates. Add to that the fact that the coverage of the major Democratic candidates has been more favorable, and that the agenda of network news interviews has reflected the liberal priorities of the Democratic Party, and the case for the networks showing partisan favor in this election cycle begins to sharpen.

The broadcast networks have a responsibility to cover both parties in a fair and even-handed manner — not for the sake of the candidates, but for the voters. That means giving viewers a chance to hear from all of the major candidates in interviews, asking them similar questions, and balancing the day-to-day news coverage to keep both Democratic and Republican primary voters equally well-informed. It’s obviously going to be a long campaign. The networks have an obligation to make it a fair campaign as well.

1 reply
  1. Amy D.
    Amy D. says:

    This slant has seemed apparent to me — thanks for the facts to back up my impressions. Not surprising, but certainly disappointing. Hopefully having it so blatantly pointed out will cause a bit of a shift toward more fair reporting.


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