PEJ Campaign Coverage Index: May 19 - 25, 2008, While Democrats Battle on, McCain Makes News

May 28, 2008

The Democratic candidates once again attracted the majority of campaign coverage last week—and they were an eventful seven days. The two contenders split the May 20 primaries, with Hillary Clinton dominating in blue-collar Kentucky and Barack Obama winning in green-tilting Oregon. Clinton’s determination to continue her campaign also generated more media speculation about a ticket uniting the two rivals. And the week ended with a firestorm caused by the former First Lady’s evoking the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy in describing her reasons for staying in the race.

For all that, the dominant media narrative on the state of the race remained the same—that Obama was on the cusp of securing a hard-fought nomination. That storyline has been unchanged since the North Carolina and Indiana primaries on May 6, when the pundits declared the race over for all practical purposes.

It was reiterated the morning after last week’s primaries. “Unless some kind of lightning strikes,” George Stephanopoulos asserted on ABC’s Good Morning America, “Barack Obama is the nominee.”

What did change noticeably in the media’s campaign narrative last week was the role of presumptive GOP nominee John McCain. After largely being treated as a bystander to the Democrats’ battle for weeks, he emerged to become a central newsmaker and featured player in the coverage.

Appearing as a significant or dominant newsmaker in 41% of last week’s campaign stories, McCain still trailed Obama widely (62%) and Clinton narrowly (43%) in the competition for media exposure, according to PEJ’s Campaign Coverage Index for May 19-25. But that 41% represents the Arizona Senator’s highest level of coverage since way back on Super Tuesday week (Feb. 4-10). As recently as the week of May 5-11, McCain was registering as a virtual afterthought, at a mere 12%.

Read the full report While Democrats Battle on, McCain Makes News on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.

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