Mitt Romney has publicly griped about the way the news media have covered him, but the presumptive GOP nominee has gotten better press in 2012 than President Obama, according to a study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
The study found that Obama’s negative coverage exceeded positive coverage in 14 of 15 weeks examined, while positive coverage outweighed negative for Romney in six of the 15 weeks and was fairly evenly divided in four more.
Since November, nearly two-thirds--63 percent--of the coverage about Obama were framed around political strategy and momentum. In comparison, 21 percent primarily connected the president with foreign- or domestic-policy issues.
Researchers said the result "suggests the media have been treating [Obama] more as a presidential candidate than a chief executive for months."
In a speech earlier this month to the Newspaper Association of America, Romney lamented how much the political press has changed in recent years, citing its increasing fascination with what he regards as trivia. “In 2008, the coverage was about what I said in my speech,” he said. “These days, it’s about what brand of jeans I am wearing and what I ate for lunch.”
He cited online news in particular, saying that it too often values speed over accuracy: “I find myself missing the presence of editors to exercise quality control. I miss the days of two or more sources for a story--when at least one source was actually named.”
After Romney’s narrow victory in the Feb. 28 Michigan primary, the study said, news coverage about his candidacy became measurably more favorable. At the same time, the portrayal of his rivals—particularly Rick Santorum—began to become more negative as well as to shrink in volume.
The Pew study said that the former senator from Pennsylvania "never enjoyed a sustained period of positive press." Meanwhile, Newt Gingrich "had only one week during the primary season in which he enjoyed significantly more positive press coverage than negative—the week of his victory in South Carolina on Jan. 21." And it found that Rep. Ron Paul had 11 weeks out of 15 in which the media attention paid to him was clearly more positive than negative. But Paul received about one-eighth as much coverage as Romney and about one-quarter as much as Santorum and Gingrich.
"Ron Paul enjoyed the most consistently positive portrayal of any candidate in the race. But that was offset by the fact that the media virtually ignored him," the study said.
The analysis was produced through two forms of coding of media content. One involved computer-assisted analysis of more than 11,000 news outlets. The second involved human coding of a sample of 52 key news outlets covering print, broadcast, cable, audio, and online means of distribution.
The computer technology from the firm Crimson Hexagon was used to examine the tone of each candidate’s coverage, how positive or negative or neutral. The human coding was used to analyze the amount of coverage each candidate received and the framing of that coverage—whether it involved strategy, issues, or personal matters. The examination of the tone and volume of coverage focused on the period from Jan. 2 to April 15, while the coverage of frame reached back to November.