At a dinner party this evening, my conversation with several people ventured into the media’s treatment of Barack Obama during last year’s presidential election. One guest contrasted Obama’s skillfull and effective manipulation of the media with Sarah Palin’s seemingly far less effective approach in doing so.
It’s true that Obama used the media effectively during the primary and general election campaigns. It’s also true, as I noted, that 2008 was a Democratic year – any Democratic nomineee was destined to out-perform any Republican.
However, it’s also true that Barack Obama had a much friendlier media to work with than did John McCain or Sarah Palin, and a friendly press generally means, well, friendlier press. I cited the Pew study that documented the media’s favorable coverage of Barack Obama during the election. This study documented what most people already knew: that Barack Obama, a talented and historic candidate, received markedly more supportive coverage than other candidates.
Positive press did not deliver the election to Obama – voters did, acting in a given national political environment and reacting to the choice of the two given candidates and their messages. But let’s not fool ourselves into thinking that the journalistic class lived up to its standards of neutrality and objectivity. The press was enthralled with young Obama, and the fact clearly came through in its collective coverage of the campaign – a fact clearly demonstrated by the independent, respected Pew Center.
The study indicates that coverage of Obama was slightly more positive than negative, and substantially more negative than positive for McCain. I believe this understates actual tone (which has been measured in different ways by different media effects scholars), but nonetheless the key finding does validate the notion that the media was relatively favorable towards Obama.