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Candidates’ Successes, Slumps in Polls Often Echoed by Media Coverage

Results of a Project for Excellence in Journalism report indicate media coverage of Sens. John McCain and Barack Obama often mirrors their standing in the polls. A media critic and journalists weigh the impact of the recent findings and the role of media coverage in the 2008 race.

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  • JIM LEHRER:

    Now, covering the coverage of the presidential campaign. Jeffrey Brown has our Media Unit report. JEFFREY BROWN: In a campaign that's generated enormous interest and seemingly more coverage than a 24-hour day would allow, are there consistent trends or themes in the reporting?

    A new study, "Winning the Media Campaign," from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism offers some answers. Mark Jurkowitz is the associate director of the group and a former media reporter for the Boston Globe.

    Also with us is Callie Crossley, program manager at the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard and a contributor to WGBH Boston's media program, "Beat the Press."

    And Robin Abcarian, who's been on the campaign trail with the candidates as a staff writer for the Los Angeles Times.

    Mark, the headline, I guess, on your study, the coverage of your study of the coverage, you write, "The media coverage has not so much cast Barack Obama in a favorite light as it has portrayed John McCain in a substantially negative one."

    Now, what does that mean?

    MARK JURKOWITZ, Project for Excellence in Journalism: Well, the period we looked at, Jeffrey, was from Sept. 8 through Oct. 16, so it was a crucial period in the election, basically from the end of the Republican convention through all of the presidential debates, so a crucial moment.

    And what we do is we look at what we call the tone in the campaign. We actually evaluate stories — hundreds and hundreds of them — to see whether there tend to be more negative assertions or positive assertions about a candidate in a story.

    And we're actually very conservative about the way we do it. We have a lot of stories that are neutral.

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