The media's coverage of the campaign last week seemed to reflect a growing consensus that the Republican and Democratic nomination fights were moving along two distinctly different trajectories.
With Florida winner John McCain getting about 75% more coverage than Mitt Romney, and with Mike Huckabee almost invisible, the press appeared conspicuously close to turning McCain into the presumptive nominee last week. In that Jan. 28-Feb. 3 period, which ran from the day before the Florida primary to two days before Super Tuesday, McCain generated more coverage than any candidate. And that coverage suggested a media "tiering" of the race, with McCain a heavy favorite over several also-rans. McCain had not necessarily put Mitt Romney away, but the press nearly had.
On the Democratic side -- where Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton were virtually equal in media attention for the third consecutive week -- the tone and level of coverage anticipated a long and intense battle. The message here, which began two days after Obama's victory in South Carolina, was that there would be no verdict soon. And for the second week in a row a non-candidate (this time, Massachusetts Sen. Edward Kennedy), played an important role in the Democratic narrative.
Two candidates called it quits last week, and they also generated quite different coverage. Republican Rudy Giuliani, the early frontrunner whose candidacy expired in Florida, generated twice as much coverage as Democrat John Edwards, who was never able to crack the media's "two's company, three's a crowd" view of the Democratic contest. But much of Giuliani's coverage was a schadenfreude-saturated post-mortem attacking his candidacy.
These are some of the findings from the Project for Excellence in Journalism's fourth edition of the Campaign Coverage Index, a measure of which candidate is winning in the all-important race for media exposure. The project will run the Index until nominees are selected in each party.
Read the full report McCain Wins the Coverage Battle as Media Move to Anoint Him on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.