PEJ Campaign Coverage Index: May 12 - 18, 2008, Clinton Wins W. Virginia, Obama Wins the Headlines

May 20, 2008

A man who had trouble getting the media to pay attention to his presidential bid finally generated a lot of headlines last week. When he showed up to endorse Barack Obama at a Michigan rally on May 14, John Edwards not only made news, he helped change the story line.

The splash was substantial. After backing his former rival for the Democratic nomination, by week’s end Edwards was a dominant or significant figure in 10% of the campaign coverage, according to PEJ’s Campaign Coverage Index for May 12-18. That is more coverage than the former Senator managed to attract in three of the four weeks in January when he was still a candidate—and more than he got the week he dropped out.

And in embracing Obama less than 24 hours after Clinton’s big win in West Virginia, Edwards diverted media attention away from a discussion of renewed Clinton momentum and helped refocused the narrative on Obama’s apparent inevitability.

In doing so, Edwards also helped Obama win the race for exposure last week. Overall, Obama was a significant or dominant newsmaker in 68% of the campaign coverage, well ahead of Clinton, who finished at 53%. And their coverage was very different. Despite her 41-point win in West Virginia, her narrative included considerable speculation about how long she would stay in the race and whether she might end up as Obama’s vice president.

Despite a West Virginia trouncing that might have deepened questions about Obama’s appeal to working-class whites, his narrative last week continued a theme that had emerged the previous week. Obama was depicted as shifting away from a primary contest toward a general election strategy. Not only was that story line reinforced by Edwards’ endorsement, it was bolstered by President Bush’s May 15 remarks in Israel criticizing “appeasement” that Obama saw as a direct attack. Obama responded with sharp criticism of Bush and McCain that seemed to offer a preview of the general election fight. For his role in that foreign policy dustup, the President registered at 12% in last week’s campaign coverage, his largest role in any week’s campaign narrative since PEJ began tracking that role.

Read the full report Clinton Wins W. Virginia, Obama Wins the Headlines on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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