The media maxim, If it bleeds, it leads, does not appear to apply to the level of coverage in the presidential primaries. A study of last week’s coverage shows that, despite a much more unsettled Republican primary contest, the Democrats continue to get the lion’s share of media attention. And at that, only certain Democrats (via Jazz and TPM):
Senator Hillary Clinton’s poll-defying Democratic primary victory in New Hampshire helped make her the leading campaign newsmaker last week, but the resurrection in the Granite State of John McCain’s once-dead campaign did not translate into similar largesse of media attention, according to a new study of media campaign coverage.
Meanwhile, the meaning of third place was also fungible last week. Mike Huckabee, a distant third in the GOP race, got sizably more media attention than did John Edwards among the Democrats.
And New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, who is not running, got nearly as much coverage for showing up at a conference in Oklahoma as Rudolph Giuliani did for finishing fourth among Republicans.
Before we focus on specific candidates, let’s take a gander at the attention paid to the two primaries. Of all the political coverage of the primaries — which ate up almost half of all news reporting in the week — 43% focused on a Democratic race that mostly concerns two candidates. Only 32% focused on a Republican race that has at least five candidates seriously bidding for the nomination, and one which has at least some likelihood to result in the first brokered convention in decades.
Of course, Hillary’s surprise win in New Hampshire could explain that, but the Project for Excellence in Journalism says this just continues a trend it’s seen for the past year. In other words, the media chooses to cover Democrats more consistently and in greater quantity than Republicans, even though the contest is more contentious on the GOP side and has been the entire time.
Individual candidates complain that they got short shrift. The comparison between Mike Huckabee and John Edwards is inapt, however. Edwards didn’t win in Iowa, and the story from the Democratic caucuses wasn’t that he finished second as much as it was that Hillary didn’t. Huckabee might have a complaint about coverage for Romney outstripping his, although it seems likely that Romney’s wasn’t exactly positive.
The results at PEJ won’t shock anyone, but they will reinforce perceptions about the media. They should also put to rest arguments from the Clinton camp that the media has somehow ignored her. For better or worse, she was last week’s winner in coverage, as she was in December.