Thursday, January 08, 2004

Selective Coverage 2004:
Dean, Kerry dominate New Hampshire newspaper reporting

Exclusive to Politizine

An independent analysis of three New Hampshire daily newspapers during the last few months shows that former-Gov. Howard Dean and Sen. John Kerry received more newspaper coverage while their opponents for the Democratic presidential nomination race lagged behind in coverage.
Between Sept. 1 and Dec. 31, Politizine analyzed and audited the published editions of the Concord Monitor, The Union Leader [Manchester], and the Nashua Telegraph. The research included stories, features, editorials, and analysis which mentioned the Democratic primaries or candidates. The number of articles written was tracked as well as whether pictures were included, whether a candidate's name was mentioned in the story, and whether the names of the candidates appeared in the story's headline. Candidates mentioned in news briefs or in a daily political calendar, promoting local campaign events, were also tracked.
A single point was given for each category.
Over this time period, both Dean and Kerry dominated local reporting coverage with national stories published in the dailies mostly concentrating on the top and middle tier candidates.
In some cases, Dean and Kerry received two to three times the coverage that those candidates in the lower tier received. The coverage also varied between the newspapers, with the Union Leader and Telegraph giving more prominence to President George W. Bush in articles on the primaries, and the Monitor publishing more photos of the candidates than the other newspapers.

Interesting points about candidate coverage
To start, all three newspapers relied on numerous national wire stories from the Associated Press, The Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, or Scripps-Howard News Service. In most national stories, the lower tier candidates received little or no coverage, hence their lower numbers.
Most of the national stories were horserace stories in nature, i.e. stories about campaign contributions [or "the invisible primary," as noted by political junkies], television ads, debate analysis, union endorsements, and polling results. Most polling stories covered meaningless national polls which have no significance in the nominating process of the Democratic candidate.
Despite getting into the race in mid-September, former NATO Gen. Wesley Clark received more newspaper coverage in the Union Leader and Telegraph than candidates who had been in the race much longer. This shows early on that Clark was the media darling at this point in time of the primary campaign.
Sen. Bob Graham is included in the study since he was a candidate until the first week of October.
Coverage by local reporters was mainly the opposite of their national counterparts and of a higher quality in substance and material. Most of the stories were event driven - meaning reporters were at a local event or speech given by the candidate. Some of the stories, like the Primary People series by the Monitor staff, showed a few of the behind the scene characters involved in the campaigns. Another series, in the Home & Life section of the Telegraph, presented backgrounds on the candidates' spouses. The Union Leader, as it has throughout the New Hampshire primary history, filled its editorial pages with interesting and thought-provoking editorials and columns about the Democratic candidates from a conservative perspective.
All three newspapers have excellent political staff reporters digging up inside dirt on endorsements, campaign bickering, event faux pas and gaffes, for their readers.
The bulk of the Bush mentions were of a negative nature - with Democratic candidates quoting or attacking him in their remarks.

The numbers
Currently, most polls of the New Hampshire primary have Dean way out in front, with Kerry in second and Clark a close third.
Strangely, polling results are similar to the audit results of the study of coverage New Hampshire's daily newspapers have been offering their readers.
Media studies have shown that people who read newspapers tend to be informed voters and actively involved in their communities. However, it is hard to tell whether the newspaper coverage is influencing the voters or not.
Since most of the local reporting is based on events that take place, the candidate who holds the most events in New Hampshire is likely to receive the most coverage.
Candidates like the Rev. Al Sharpton, who has only been in the state a couple of times since August, have not fared well with coverage whereas Dean and Kerry have consistently been holding town hall events around the state. With a surge of events in recent weeks, Rep. Dennis Kucinich [and to a lesser extent former-Sen. Carol Moseley Braun] boosted his coverage out of the lower tier. Moves by Clark and Sen. Joe Lieberman to bypass the Iowa caucuses and concentrate all of their energies on New Hampshire raised their coverage numbers above those of Rep. Dick Gephardt who has been focusing his efforts in Iowa. Although Edwards has also spent most of his time in the state, he was not able to elevate himself from the middle status of candidates.
It should also be noted that it is the responsibility of the campaigns to notify newspaper reporters about events in the state. Some of the campaigns, most notably the Kucinich campaign, started late in notifying the press about events. The Graham, Moseley Braun, and Sharpton campaigns made it extremely difficult for reporters to contact them, repeatedly ignoring requests by reporters to be put on their email lists.

Other anomalies
Single "fringe" candidates were not included individually. Their results were bulked in the "others" category.
Interestingly, in the Telegraph, "others" received more mentions than Kucinich, Moseley Braun or Sharpton. In the Monitor, former Vice President Al Gore and "others" received more coverage than Sharpton. This was primarily since the "others" candidates were listed a number of times in feature articles about the New Hampshire primary.
Lyndon LaRouche was separated from the collection of "fringe" candidates mostly because he received more coverage than the others, including a few feature articles, and a column in the Union Leader. He also played prominently during protests at the Black Congressional Caucus debate, which was acknowledged by the national press corps. According to FEC reports, LaRouche has raised millions of dollars for his 2004 presidential run and will receive more federal matching funds than Kucinich, Moseley Braun, or Sharpton, yet did not warrant anywhere near the coverage of the lower tier candidates because of his "fringe" status.
Including the "fringe" candidates, the media has separated the coverage into four sections: The top tier, the middle tier, the low tier, and the fringe tier. The coverage reflects this decision to segment the campaigns.
Other players in the primary process were also tracked, including Vice President Dick Cheney, New York Sen. Hillary Clinton, and Ralph Nader, the Green Party candidate in 2000.

Deeper analysis
National polls, as noted in previous Politizine posts, do nothing but portray a candidate's popularity or name recognition. The results of national polls have nothing to do with the state by state election results in which delegates are awarded to candidates and the nomination will be won. By relying so heavily on national polls and publishing these stories, the newspapers unwittingly brainwash people into worrying about which candidate will win and not necessarily which candidate closely resembles a voter’s viewpoint or opinion.
In the local coverage, some reporters have noted this trend.
In at least two Kucinich articles, Monitor reporters noted that while voters liked Kucinich on the issues, those same voters were voting for Dean because they believed he would win.
This type of manipulation by the national press corps is one of the reasons why candidates with stature like Graham couldn't get out of the single digits even though he had an extensive resume and a long history of well-respected public service. A candidate like Clark, however, can literally vault into the lead of most national popularity polls based on his celebrity status and nothing more - without any visible policy or elected experience - based on the national media coverage.
The position of articles can also affect the way voters analyze a campaign, similar to product placement in a motion picture. More often than not, the Monitor placed candidate features with photos on the front page. The Telegraph occasionally placed articles on the front but the Union Leader almost never did.
Including a headline count and noting the candidate’s name in a headline also helps to identify the candidate in the reader’s eyes. In feature stories, the candidate’s name was often mentioned in the headline. Local reporters also used clever ways of not including the name of the candidate in the feature, which cost the candidates on points.
However, national stories repeatedly featured the perceived frontrunner prominently. 'Dean leads in polls,' or 'Dean attacked by rivals,' were standing heads and themes in many national stories over the four-month analysis period. These stories solidified not only Dean’s frontrunner status but also the perception that Dean was being attacked by other candidates - even though Dean had spent the better part of the last year attacking his competitors while he was in the middle tier.

Concord Monitor
Sept. 1 to Dec. 31
Candidate---Name in headline---Name in article, brief or calendar-----Picture
Howard Dean--------------------70---------------------------------293--------------------- 62
John Kerry------------------------37---------------------------------254-----------------------58
Joe Lieberman-------------------25---------------------------------189-----------------------52
Wesley Clark---------------------39---------------------------------185----------------------57
John Edwards--------------------17---------------------------------170----------------------42
George W. Bush-----------------17---------------------------------162-----------------------7
Dick Gephardt---------------------8----------------------------------157---------------------32
Dennis Kucinich-----------------16------------------------------------88---------------------31
Carole Moseley Braun-----------6-----------------------------------60---------------------17
Al Gore-----------------------------4------------------------------------45----------------------0
Al Sharpton-----------------------3------------------------------------41---------------------13
Bob Graham-----------------------5-----------------------------------23----------------------2
Dick Cheney-----------------------2-----------------------------------15----------------------1
Hillary Clinton---------------------3-----------------------------------10----------------------1
Ralph Nader-----------------------0------------------------------------5----------------------0
Lyndon LaRouche----------------0------------------------------------3-----------------------2

Based on 382 articles published and numerous briefs.

The Union Leader
Sept. 1 to Dec. 31
Candidate--Name in headline of article--Name in article, brief or calendar-----Picture
Howard Dean---------------------142---------------------------254------------------------29
John Kerry-------------------------- 47---------------------------193------------------------29
George W. Bush-------------------31----------------------------154------------------------13
Wesley Clark------------------------54---------------------------140------------------------18
Dick Gephardt-----------------------13---------------------------131-------------------------19
Joe Lieberman----------------------40----------------------------123------------------------20
John Edwards-----------------------19---------------------------104--------------------------23
Dennis Kucinich---------------------14-----------------------------71-------------------------13
Carole Moseley Braun--------------6-----------------------------46---------------------------3
Al Sharpton---------------------------3-----------------------------44---------------------------6
Al Gore---------------------------------6-----------------------------32----------------------------1
Dick Cheney--------------------------2------------------------------13-----------------------------0
Hillary Clinton------------------------2------------------------------12-----------------------------0
Bob Graham--------------------------1------------------------------17-----------------------------1
Lyndon LaRouche-------------------3-------------------------------8-----------------------------0
Ralph Nader--------------------------2-------------------------------3-----------------------------0

Based on 444 articles published and numerous briefs.

Nashua Telegraph
Sept. 1 to Dec. 31
Candidate---Name in headline of article---Name in article, brief or calendar----Picture
Howard Dean----------------------73-------------------------------183--------------------------24
John Kerry--------------------------44-------------------------------144--------------------------16
George W. Bush-------------------13--------------------------------98----------------------------2
Wesley Clark-----------------------36--------------------------------96---------------------------17
Joe Lieberman---------------------24--------------------------------83---------------------------22
Dick Gephardt-----------------------9--------------------------------83--------------------------12
John Edwards----------------------13--------------------------------67--------------------------14
Dennis Kucinich--------------------10--------------------------------50---------------------------6
Carole Moseley Braun------------4----------------------------------29----------------------------5
Al Sharpton-------------------------1----------------------------------25---------------------------3
Al Gore-------------------------------3---------------------------------23---------------------------0
Bob Graham------------------------3---------------------------------16----------------------------4
Dick Cheney------------------------3-----------------------------------7----------------------------0
Hillary Clinton----------------------0------------------------------------6----------------------------0
Lyndon LaRouche-----------------1------------------------------------3---------------------------0
Ralph Nader------------------------0------------------------------------2--------------------------0

Based on 281 articles published and numerous briefs.

This study is not scientific but just one person's analysis of the data in the publications. The inspiration for this media analysis came from reading a number of local daily newspapers since June 2003 and noticing what seemed to be overwhelmingly amounts of coverage for Dean during the summer. As this analysis shows, Dean has continued to receive the bulk of the coverage.

A similar study in 1998 of the 8th Congressional District race showed that two Boston dailies ignored the lower tier Democratic candidates as well as the Republican and independent candidates running for the seat. The study also revealed that the bulk of the coverage by the dailies was on political personalities and the horserace aspect of the campaigns and not the issues important to voters. The study also showed that weekly newspapers covered the campaigns more fairly and substantially.

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