In the seemingly stalemated race for the Democratic nomination, there seems to be a clear relationship recently between the level of coverage for a presidential candidate and the tone. And the recent campaign media narratives strongly suggest that, at the moment, bad news is big news.
Last week it was Hillary Clinton's turn to be examined in the media's stare. The fallout from her oft-repeated story about encountering sniper fire during a 1996 trip to Bosnia, and the later acknowledgement that she “misspoke,” helped make Clinton the leading campaign newsmaker of the week. As measured by PEJ's Campaign Coverage Index March 24-30, she was a significant or dominant factor in 63% of the week's campaign stories. Rival candidate Barack Obama trailed at 54%.
That marks a major turnaround from the previous week when 72% of the stories were significantly or predominantly about Obama, and Clinton lagged far behind at 30%. Then it was Obama on the hot seat as he delivered a high-stakes March 18 speech designed to minimize the political damaged cause by the widely circulated and inflammatory remarks of his pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright.
Obama was still dealing with the Wright flap last week, but it had subsided noticeably, and what there was more than matched by Clinton and the Bosnia dustup, which accounted for 14% of the week's campaign stories.
Once again, the still-contested Democratic race dominated the media's attention, generating about six times the number of stories as the Republicans. But much of the news was negative. And the subtext never far from the surface was the increasing bad blood between the Obama and Clinton camps. That included a Bill Clinton remark that Obama's campaign interpreted as questioning his patriotism and James Carville's comparison of Bill Richardson—who had endorsed Obama—to Judas Iscariot. As the week went on, Democrats' mounting fears of a self-destructive primary battle led to some stories featuring calls for Clinton to leave the race.
On the others side of the aisle, John McCain, who picked up the endorsement of Nancy Reagan last week, saw his coverage move up to 24% from 17% the previous week. But that still amounted to less than half of Obama's or Clinton's coverage, something some observers see as a boon to the presumptive GOP nominee.
Read the full report Clinton's Bosnia Gaffe Makes Her Top Newsmaker on the Project for Excellence in Journalism Web site.