The Debate Effect: How the News Media Covered the Pivotal Period of the 2004 Presidential Campaign

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As the 2004 campaign draws to a close President George W. Bush has suffered strikingly more negative press coverage than challenger John Kerry, according to findings of the new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism embargoed until 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

As the 2004 campaign draws to a close President George W. Bush has suffered strikingly more negative press coverage than challenger John Kerry, according to findings of the new study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism embargoed until 12:01 a.m. Wednesday.

The study looks at the news media’s coverage during the critical debate phase of the campaign and sets out to examine the leading topics and overall tone of coverage heading into the presidential race’s last lap. The report covers the time period beginning with the first debate on September 30 and ending in mid-October 2004 and looks at coverage in national and regional newspapers, on network and cable television.

Among the answers the study provides:

  • How the positive and negative coverage the candidates received in this period compares with a similar period in 2000.
  • How much of the coverage was framed around candidate performance and tactics, policy exploration or the candidates’ characters.
  • Did the various media cover the debate period differently?
  • How much of the coverage was straightforward reporting versus more interpretive accounts.
  • How much of the coverage was aimed at the campaign’s potential impact on citizens as opposed to politicians and interest groups.

The report also contains a look at the frame and message of the coverage of web blogs, the newest animal in the 2004 campaign coverage. The study examines the postings of five prominent blogs – Andrew Sullivan, Eschaton, Instapundit, Talking Points Memo and ABC’s The Note – to compare their coverage to the mainstream press over the same two-week period.

The entire study will be available on our website at 12:01 A.M. Wednesday, October 27. For more information or to have a copy mailed to you call 202-293-7394.

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Tom Rosenstiel or Amy Mitchell
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