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Who's Winning 'The Media Primary'?

<p>Herman Cain (right) speaks as Texas Gov. Rick Perry looks on during a GOP presidential debate at Dartmouth College on Oct. 11.</p>
Andrew Harrer
AFP/Getty Images

Herman Cain (right) speaks as Texas Gov. Rick Perry looks on during a GOP presidential debate at Dartmouth College on Oct. 11.

Think of the past few months — since the beginning of May — as the prologue to the 2012 presidential election story, or as the Pew Research Center's puts it, "that weeding out period before citizens ever vote or caucus."

The Project is releasing a study today titled: "The Media Primary: How News Media and Blogs Have Eyed the Presidential Contenders During the First Phase of the 2012 Race."

Weed it and reap.

In this preseason, according to the report, the presidential candidate who has received the most — and the most positive — coverage of all the Republican contenders is Gov. Rick Perry of Texas. But the report hastens to point out that following the Florida straw poll, businessman Herman Cain began his surge to the top of positive coverage — even before his poll numbers started to spike.

The candidate who has received the most negative coverage? President Obama. The Pew Research centurions found that negative assessments of Obama — as president and as candidate for re-election — in the media over the past five months outdistanced positive assessments by a ratio of nearly 4 to 1.

The analysis, which marries conventional media research techniques and computer algorithms to discern the "level and tone" of campaign coverage, revealed that former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has received less — and less positive — coverage than "his chief rival of the moment." And that Texas Rep. Ron Paul has been the No. 1 beneficiary of positive vibes from bloggers.

Here is a quick take on the "knighted," the "slighted" and the "oversighted" in the Pew report. (We know, we know. "Oversighted" is a made-up word. But it seems fitting in this extremely surreal political season. And it rhymes.)


  • Rick Perry. The positive attention to Perry's candidacy overwhelmed the negative coverage 32 percent to 20 percent, with the remainder of coverage being neutral. Near the end of the survey period, his positive coverage began to go south.
  • Mitt Romney. On balance, Romney's coverage has see-sawed between good and bad — 26 percent positive and 27 percent negative. "Yet what stands out most is consistency," the report states. "While other major candidates have risen and fallen in the amount and tone of coverage received, the basic arc of Romney's narrative has wavered little from week to week."
  • Herman Cain. Any way you slice it, coverage of Cain's candidacy has been more positive (28 percent) than negative (23 percent). For the first three months, Cain was pretty much ignored, but lately there have been more and more favorable assessments.
  • Michele Bachmann. The candidacy of the Minnesota Congresswoman has tended more toward the positive (31 percent) than the negative (23 percent), "But she had the wildest ride of any candidate in the race," according to the report. After receiving a bump from winning the Iowa straw poll, Bachmann "now is back where she started, an unlikely contender discounted in the narrative."
  • Sarah Palin. Though the former Alaska governor now says she is not running for president, for a few months — during the Pew analysis — she played her cards closer to her vest and was treated somewhat like a candidate. Positive coverage of Palin beat negative coverage by a ratio of nearly 3-to-2, according to Pew.
  • Slighted

  • Newt Gingrich. The former House Speaker did not fare well in the analysis. The ratio of negative coverage over positive coverage was greater than 2-to-1.
  • Tim Pawlenty. The candidacy of the former Minnesota governor did not last long — less than three months. But in that time, he was treated to a greater amount of negative coverage than positive coverage, by a more than 2-1 ratio.
  • Oversighted

  • Rick Santorum andJon Huntsman. The former Pennsylvania senator and the former Utah governor respectively have not received much respect, or least attention, from the media. The Pew report refers to them as "the long shot duo" and points out that coverage of the pair has been modest and mixed.
  • Ron Paul. Of all the candidates, according to the analysis, Paul has received the least coverage overall. "The difference with Paul," the report adds, "is that he has received, by far, the most favorable coverage of any candidate in the blogosphere -– 48 percent positive and only 15 percent negative."
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    Linton Weeks joined NPR in the summer of 2008, as its national correspondent for Digital News. He immediately hit the campaign trail, covering the Democratic and Republican National Conventions; fact-checking the debates; and exploring the candidates, the issues and the electorate.