Press and 2008 Presidential Campaign in the US


It is clear that when the press covers presidential campaigns, it concentrates on strategic games which are played by candidates in their pursuit of presidency instead of putting emphasis on the issues regarding national policy and leadership. Journalists seem to find news in the activities taken by the candidates instead of finding out the cause of such an activity and therefore this study seeks to research media bias on presidential campaigns.

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The activities which are most visible and which constitute elections in any country are vote returns are the ones which should be used by the press as the election news, however, the press tends to emphasize more on the simple mechanisms which the candidates use in campaigning such as where the candidates travel, their organizational efforts and projections in votes. Due to this, most of the election coverage by the media devotes its attention to the contextual aspects and forgets the most important aspect of who among the candidates would make the better president for the country.

Many of the reporters believe that the candidates’ ability to play the campaign games is the most important and is what determines whether they will be successful or not. This is confirmed in the 1976 United States campaigns when the candidates appeared on ‘meet the press. The press questioned them on their strategies and chances, their leadership and policy views and the newspaper columnists devoted most of their space in the papers to analyze the prospects and games of the candidates (Patterson 21). According to (Patterson 28), televisions tend to focus on the themes of campaigns instead of the facts, and also magazines focus on race status and strategies of candidates while the newspapers focus on events and not the theme. In the previous times, candidates fought to gain the presidency by focusing on policy and leadership but today the candidates focus on the tactics and strategies to use while relying on their consultants who advise them on techniques rather than substance (Patterson 28).

Projection of favorable personal attributes by candidates is believed to offer a risk-averse strategy that holds together the base of the party and it also attracts the votes from people so the media tries to focus on them as they are the most used by presidential candidates (Jacobs & Shapiro, 527).

Candidates and journalists have different conceptions regarding the campaign process as each ascribes a different role in campaign journalism. The journalists view it as a competition between the candidates and see their work as observing and transmitting. They believe that the campaign reports convey information among politicians and they do not see their activities to be intruding to the political process but rather they see their efforts as necessary to bring out the truth which is seen as objective, nonparticipatory and neutral even if it directly affects the electoral process.

Furthermore, it is contended that the journalists do not intend to influences the events although it does not mean that the influence is not asserted (Arterton 21). However, the outcomes are usually complicated by the candidates as the campaigners influence the thinking of journalists while reacting to their expectations.

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When the time magazine was established in 1923, Briton Hadden and Henry Luce began selecting the week’s most important facts for leaders and then they organized the collected facts into convenient departments where they interpreted them and gave their thoughts to the leaders on how they felt about the facts. The time magazine has therefore never claimed to be objective since its editors mixed their opinions freely with the news that they produced from the start. Analysis of the stereotypes presented by times magazine on the presidents found that among presidents Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy, the magazine seemed to favor Eisenhower who was a republican while it criticized Truman and had a neutral attitude towards Kennedy. Since that study and the analysis, the magazine has claimed to be fairer and even its critics held that it is now balanced than in its previous years.

However, its coverage of the Vietnam War contradicted the previous observations about the growing impartiality of the magazine (Felder, Meeske & Hall, 353). The time magazine is very influential as observers saw that even the journalists in the nation heavily rely on its material. The journalists listed times magazine six times ahead of the other journalist resources which included three television networks, the U.S world report, Newsweek, and several other major newspapers such as the Los Angeles Times. In determining the accuracy of these perceptions from the journalists, there was an examination by (Felder, Meeske & Hall, 354) of the times treatment of four presidents; Lyndon B. Johnson, Gerald R. Ford, Richard M. Nixon, and James E. Carter and there was an examination of the magazine’s treatment of the Nixon’s administration before and after the Watergate. These journalists used a close connection of their experiment with Merrill’s study where there was a selection and analysis of 10 consecutive issues of the times magazine which were published during the administration of each of the four presidents. President Nixon’s administration was divided into two periods which included the pre-Watergate and the post-Watergate periods.

A table of random numbers was used to determine the years each administration would be studied and another table was used to select the weeks and months to be used as the starting dates. There was also an examination of the language used to describe each president and an emphasis was put on the loaded words and the expressions which were used. There was an establishment of six bias categories which included the attribution bias, adjective bias, contextual bias, outright opinion, and photographic bias and the instances of bias were noted to be either positive(favorable) or negative (unfavorable) while journalism students at the advanced level were used as the evaluative panel. However, the length of the stories in the magazine was not put into consideration since space does not have a necessary bearing of either subjectivity or bias.

In their study, Felder, Meeske & Hall acted as the evaluative panel where they separately read all the copies of all the articles which were published about the four presidents in the ten-week periods and still separately, they recorded instances of bias where they defined bias as any expression of opinion or variance of opinion from neutrality. The isolated words were classified as attribution bias, biased sentences and paragraphs as outright opinion, and the entire expression as textual bias. There was a total examination of 187 articles where 153 were termed as favorable and disregarded ambiguous sentences. They only considered the news on stories, cartoons, and photographs of the specific president and not columns and letters to editors, a photograph or cartoon had to mention a president by name or contain his image and they run an independent pre-test where they discussed stories published by times magazine of another person if his name appeared in the magazine for some consecutive several weeks.

The 1996 presidential campaign was hard to point on a scientific precision, several reporters without a single proof asked the spokesman of the white house if the president had a sexually transmitted disease, they further wrote on Bob Dole falling off the stage a story which dominated the media for days. Towards Clinton’s reelection, the journalists moaned lack of quadrennial drama openly and they always published polls, pontifications, and predictions and for a while, there was an inverse relationship between press coverage quality and the intensity of the race. The coverage during the Republican primaries was shortsighted, erratic, and sometimes wrong, and the campaign was so tepid that there were times when the candidates did not appear on the nightly news. Every four years after presidential elections, the media always engages in sessions where they vow to do things differently although their efforts do not bear any fruits (Kurtz, 28).

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Generally, the Patterson story talks about how media focuses on the strategic games which are played by the presidential candidates while pursuing the presidential post instead of emphasizing leadership and national policy.

Fedler shows the stereotypes in the presidents and how the media is biased on what it publishes and whom it criticizes or favors. The media mostly favors one candidate while it criticizes another or simply becomes neutral.

Arterton shows how the media and the presidential candidates hold different concepts of the process of campaigns. Press sees the campaigns as a competition between candidates and it is responsible for establishing different perceptions of the different candidates in the campaigners. Jacobs shows that the presidential candidates usually focus on the policy and their personality image. He shows that the issues and the image are correlated and are strategic concerns and finally, Kurtz focuses on the quality of the media coverage especially in the 1996 elections.

During the current campaigns for the presidency in the United States, the media has published several Articles which show negative attacks between Barrack Obama, Hilary Clinton, and John McCain before the primaries which were coming up in Pennsylvania. The media focused on Barrack Obama as defensive about the working-class Americans not wanting to vote for him, Hilary accused him of looking down on them and rebuked him for the similar remarks which he privately made to a group of donors. Obama comments reported by the Huffing post website made Clinton tell the Pennsylvanians that they do not need people who look down on them and the spokesman for McCain described the comments as being out of touch. The Winston-Salem (N.C) journal shows that Barrack tried to quell the furor to explain his remarks while saying that his choice of words was poor but Clinton’s campaigns fueled the controversies hoping to change the votes of people not only in Pennsylvania but in other upcoming primaries. Political insiders differed whether Obama’s comments would become a full-blown political disaster, he said that there has been a political flare-up, McCain accused him of elitism (Kuhnhenn, 2008).

The Huffing post website put Obama’s comments about the working class people and they set a criticism from Clinton and McCain drawing attention to his weakness and others had the image that he is arrogant and aloof. Further comments made Clinton attack Barrack more terming his words as demeaning and that people would not cling to religion because they are bitter and those who supported Obama avoided it so that the words cannot be used against them. Comments on the Pittsburgh Post gazette said that Clinton’s attacks on Obama were a cynical response of the old politics.

Obama stayed on the defensive about his comments about the working class clinging on guns and religion and he reiterated his regret saying that his words were twisted and mischaracterized by people; Clinton said Barracks remarks are elitist and divisive.

Obama is seen to respond to Clinton by accusing her of 11th-hour smears paid by lobbyist’s money after she said that he had taken 2 million dollars from lobbyists, PACs, and corporations and said that his head of campaign in Hampshire is a drug company lobbyist.

Obama is seen to cast Clinton as a game player saying that he uses slash and burn tactics but on the other side she urged voters to look beyond the ‘whoop Dee do’ speechmaking. Obama is said to have amplified his points while Clinton’s argument is that you cannot change the game played in Washington. Clinton is said to have internalized many strategies and has made Washington a miserable place. She is said to have got the kitchen flying and that her politics are constant distractions, trivial, petty, slash and burn, tit for tat, and back and forth. Obama is said to have criticized John McCain and took aim at Clinton by saying that they should focus on why they should win but not how to win.

Stories Number of sentences Attrition individuals Verbs and adjective Overall impression
Story of Fouhy B & Sidoti L 25 7 Obama
3 Obama as a game player using burnt tactics while Clinton seems to be focused and involving
Fouhy & Helping 21 2 Obama
1 Obama is seen as attacking, Clinton as a person of integrity
Kuhnhenn J & Babington C. 24 3 Obama
6 Clinton is negative towards Obama and sees his tactics as arrogant and aloof.
Obama seems apologetic
Espo D & Fouhy B 28 4 Obama,
2 McCain is seen as Obama’s critique,
Kuhnhenn, J. 12 4 McCain
4 Obama is seen as defensive and out of touch.
Espo D & Fouthy B. 22nd. 27 9 Obama
3 McCain is seen as a political gambler. And Obama defensive.

From the literature review, it is clear that the media today still has media bias against some of the presidential candidates over others. The attrition bias used is such as rebuked, criticized, and accused while the adjectives are such as stuck her stump, slash and burn tactics, and above the fray attitude. Just like the Times on its previous biased coverage about presidential candidates, the Huff Post is biased against the Democrat candidate Barrack Obama as it posts negative comments and issues which the senator put across or which have been said by the other candidates about him. The website has quoted him talking about the Pennsylvanian economic anxieties and when he said that it is not surprising when the Pennsylvanian people get bitter and cling to guns and religion but it is because their jobs have been gone for so long. The site also set a blast of criticism towards Obama from Clinton, the Republican nominee John McCain and other officials from the GOP which portrayed Obama’s weakness.

The Winston-Salem (N.C) journal is also biased on its coverage against Obama. It posted that Obama was trying to quell the furor to explain his remarks while saying that his choice of words was poor. It also covers Clinton’s campaigns which fueled the controversies hoping to change the votes of people not only in Pennsylvania but in other upcoming primaries in Carolina. Political insiders differed whether Obama comments would become a full-blown political disaster, he said that there has been a political flare-up, McCain accused him of elitism.

In conclusion, therefore, it is clear that media bias is still intense even in modern times and the Fedler’s research is quite true especially when he talks about media stereotypes of presidents and presidential candidates. Just like the previous research which viewed that election campaigns assume candidates to avoid taking decisive issues but craft on their attractive personal images of strength and ambiguous policy stances, competence, honesty, and trustworthiness, the same issue still remains today where the current candidates strive to please people by showing off their wits and capabilities.

Work cited

Arterton Christopher, the Campaign in the News in Media Politics: The News Strategies of Presidential Campaigns. Lexington, MA: Lexington Books, 1984.

Fedler, Fred, Mike Meeske, and Joel Hall. Time Magazine Revisited: Presidential Stereotypes Persist. Journalism Quarterly 56 (2): 353-359, 1979.

Kurtz, Howard, Wake Me When It’s Over. American Journalism Review 19 (1): 26-30, 1997.

Jacobs Lawrence and Robert Shapiro, Issues, Candidate Image, and Priming: The Use of Private Polls in Kennedy’s 1960 Presidential Campaign. The American Political Science Review 88 (3): 527-540, 1994.

Patterson, Thomas, Press Coverage of the Campaign in Mass Media Election: How Americans Choose Their President. New York: Praeger, 1980.

Jim Kuhnhenn, Obama says some voters are angry, bitter, 2008. Web.

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