The non-partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs recently completed an analysis of the major networks and their bias during the election of 2008. In light of the recent White House/Fox News controversy, the timing couldn’t be any better.
The CMPA study compares ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news shows and the first half hour of Fox News Channel’s Special Report, which most closely resembles its broadcast news counterparts. (CNN and MSNBC have no comparable flagship evening news show; more on Fox’s polarizing talk shows momentarily.)
So how could Fox have both the most balanced and the most anti-Obama coverage? Simple. It’s because the other networks were all so pro-Obama. CMPA analyzed every soundbite by reporters and nonpartisan sources (excluding representative of the political parties) that evaluated the candidates and their policies. On the three broadcast networks combined, evaluations of Obama were 68% positive and 32% negative, compared to the only 36% positive and 64% negative evaluations of his GOP opponent John McCain.
In fact, Obama received the most favorable coverage CMPA has ever recorded for any presidential candidate since we began tracking election news coverage in 1988. The totals were very similar–within a few percentage points–at all three networks. (These figures exclude comments on the candidates’ prospects in the campaign horse race, which obviously favored Obama.)
Meanwhile, Fox’s Special Report was dramatically tougher on Obama, with only 36% favorable vs. 64% unfavorable evaluations during the same time period. But McCain didn’t fare much better, garnering only 40% favorable comments vs. 60% negative ones. So the broadcast networks gave good marks to one candidate and bad marks to another, while Fox was tough on both–and most balanced overall.
Ok, fine. What about since the campaign?
From Inauguration Day to Oct. 10, only 27% of Special Report‘s comments on the president were favorable. That sounds like proof positive of Fox’s negative intentions. But if Fox hasn’t lost its anti-Obama edge, it has certainly lost its distinctiveness. During the same period only 35% of the evaluations on ABC, CBS, and NBC were positive. So from the administration’s point of view, Fox’s coverage has gone from being the worst of all to merely the worst among equals.
There you have it. You can all shut up about Fox News now.