Media research expert L. Brent Bozell III endorses the view that the media treated Sen. Hillary Clinton differently than they did Sen. Barack Obama during the Democratic presidential debates.
Bozell, founder and president of the Media Research Center, made the observation Tuesday as he unveiled a new study of the press and presidential candidates. The Culture and Media Institute (CMI), the cultural division of the Media Research Center, issued the study.
Focusing on the “subset of character issue, in fact, Hillary can make the case that, with the presidential debates, there was a distinct disparity between the way she was treated and the way Barrack Obama was treated,” said Bozell, whose center is the largest media watchdog organization in the United States.
“Having written a book on Hillary Clinton and the media, I have been asked many times what I have thought about that, and my answer generally has been that she’s probably right in the sense that she has not gotten as favorable of a press as Obama has received,” he said.
“On the other hand, she is not right to suggest that inordinately unfair treatment was given to her — when you look at the big picture . . . One of the things that we found was that Hillary Clinton wasn’t asked not even once throughout the entirety of the presidential campaign a single question about any of the character scandals that applied to her during the Clinton years of ’93 to ’98.”
“With that said, if you go a little more deeply, there is a disparity,” concludes Bozell. “If you look at the honesty questions, we found that 12 of the 29 honesty questions, all of them being hardballs, that were asked of the Democrats were directed to Hillary Clinton. Barack Obama, on the other hand, had only five honesty questions. So she had more than 2-1 honesty hardball questions thrown in her direction than he did.” “Where the subject of integrity is concerned, both Hillary and Barrack received nearly the same number of integrity questions. She had 40 and he had 39, but of her 40, 26 of them were hardball; of Obama’s 39 only 19 were hardballs.” “On leadership, we found that Hillary Clinton received 21 questions with 11 of them being hardballs. Obama received only 11 questions with only three of them being hardballs.”
Joining Bozell at the news conference was CMI Director Robert H. Knight, who explained the way the study was conducted and pointed to some conclusions. Candidates participated in a total of 35 debates during 12 months, 20 for the Democrats and 15 for the Republicans.
CMI analyzed all 1,332 questions asked during the presidential primary debates for both major parties in 2007 and 2008, and found that the media asked more questions related to character than any other single topic.
CMI also found that the media’s character questions were balanced ideologically, in that they sprang from conservative and liberal premises in roughly equal percentages. No such balance existed on the partisan level, as the media pitched Democrats twice the percentage of softballs that they offered to Republicans.
Democrats, however, faced more than three times as many questions about honesty, Knight said.
Some details from the study:
Overall, the Media Framed Questions of Character with Ideological Balance “Forty-two percent of the character questions asked of both parties were ideologically neutral, 29 percent were based on liberal premises, and 29 percent based on conservative premises. These numbers indicate that character transcends party philosophy in questions that touch on candidates’ psyches and motivation. “Bias, however, is revealed by the disparity in hardballs and softballs thrown to the respective parties’ candidates, and some unique questions thrown to GOP candidates that the Democrats did not face. “Democrats received twice as many softballs. “Of the 251 character questions asked to Democrats, 120 (48 percent) were softballs — nearly double the percentage asked of Republicans. Republicans were asked 234 character questions and received only 58 softballs (25 percent). Three-quarters (75 percent) of their character questions (176) were hardballs, compared to the Democrats’ 131 (52 percent).
Partisan Bias “Although Democrats faced some tough questions, particularly from the late Tim Russert on MSNBC and in the very last debate on ABC on April 16, 2008 in Philadelphia, Republicans faced a far greater percentage of hardball questions. Here’s a summary of indicators of partisan bias: “Republicans faced more integrity questions (144 in 15 debates vs. Dems’ 126 in 20 debates) and had more hardballs (75 percent) than Democrats (52 percent). “Republicans faced questions not only about their own integrity but on three different occasions about the integrity of their party. Democrats faced no questions about the integrity of their party. “Some questions to Democrats were framed as if the issues involved were merely partisan ploys by the Republicans, such as: ‘I revved up the Republican attack machine. Please respond.’ In none of the debates was the idea of a ‘Democrat attack machine’ raised.
Conservative vs. Liberal Republicans faced questions about the label ‘conservative’ in five debates (5/15, 6/5 and 10/21 in 2007 and 1/10 and 1/30 in 2008), while the Democrats were asked only once about whether they should be described as ‘liberal.’ (7/23/07) This mirrors typical media coverage of candidates and office holders, in which the media use ideological labels to identify Republicans far more often than they apply labels to Democrats. “Of the four networks that hosted multiple debates, Fox was the toughest, throwing a higher percentage of hardball character questions than NBC/MSNBC, CNN or ABC. Eighty-four percent of the character questions asked by FOX News were hardballs (72 out of 86 total character questions). “On NBC/MSNBC, 66 percent of character questions asked of Republican and Democratic candidates were hardballs (108 out of 164 total character questions). ABC, while throwing the least number of hardballs to the candidates, did finish third in percentage, as 61 percent of the network’s character questions were hardballs. “CNN came in last, as its panelists threw hardballs just over half of the time, 55 percent (76 out of 139) in its character questions. “ABC asked the fewest hardballs about character. ABC had the lowest total, with 30 in five debates, or less than half as many as FOX News threw in five debates. “Once ABC hit its stride, however, the questions to Barack Obama in particular were so tough that some pundits attacked George Stephanopoulos and Charles Gibson.
Honesty: Democrats Faced More Questions “Honesty was the only category in which Democrats received more hardballs than the Republicans. In fact, Democrats received more than triple (29) the number of honesty questions asked of the Republicans (eight). Every honesty question asked of both Republicans and Democrats counted as a hardball. “Twelve of the honesty questions asked of Democrats were directed to Sen. Hillary Clinton. Topics ranged from her record on the War in Iraq (4/26/07) to whether she would describe herself as ‘liberal’ (7/23/07) to her claims about how many jobs she pledged to create in New York (2/26/08). “One possible explanation for the focus on Clinton’s honesty is that the media applied a higher level of scrutiny to her as the Democratic front-runner during much of the primary race. Another possibility is that Clinton’s record has drawn national attention for much longer than the other candidates, which leaves her vulnerable to more questioning. “Honesty conclusion: Media panels were more interested in questioning the Democrats’ honesty than that of the Republicans, but the candidates in both parties faced some real challenges.
Integrity: Republicans Faced a Higher Percentage of Hardballs “The disparity in the number of integrity softballs and hardballs between the parties is clear. Republicans were questioned on integrity 144 times, and a great majority of 110 (76 percent) were hardballs. Thirty-four questions (24 percent) were softballs. In comparison, Democrats received 126 questions on integrity with an almost even split between hardballs (66) and softballs (60). “In some of the debates, the questioners posed very direct challenges to the candidates personally, confronting them with facts, policies or previous statements that brought their integrity into question. “Integrity conclusion: As a party, the Democrats received fewer serious challenges to their integrity. Some candidates, particularly Hillary Clinton, took some genuine hardballs throughout, but Barack Obama faced integrity hardballs mainly in the last two debates. GOP candidates, particularly early favorites Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney, were asked the most potentially damaging questions about their integrity.
Romney faced the most integrity questions – 35, while John McCain took 17, Mike Huckabee took 14 and Giuliani faced 13. John McCain’s most difficult challenges involved his evolving stances on immigration and the Bush tax cuts. McCain alone was asked whether he would consider running for only one term.
Leadership: Republicans Faced a Greater Percentage of Hardball Questions “Republicans received 61 questions (26 percent of all character questions asked to the party) about leadership. Of these, 21 were softballs (34 percent) and 40 were hardballs (66 percent). Democrats received 80 questions about leadership (32 percent of all character questions asked to the party), of which 61 percent (49) were softballs. Only 31 of the questions (39 percent) posed to Democrats about leadership were hardballs. “Both parties faced a substantial number of leadership questions involving foreign policy, particularly with regard to the war in Iraq. The Democrats had 20 foreign policy leadership questions compared to the Republicans’ 17. Several GOP candidates faced direct challenges about whether they had the experience to be commander in chief. “The leadership questions favored John McCain in the GOP and Barack Obama in the Democrat debates by focusing more sharply on potential leadership problems among their opponents. Overall, given the larger percentage of hardballs thrown to the GOP, there was some partisan bias.
Courage: Republicans Faced Far More Tough Questions “The media challenged Republican candidates much more aggressively with regard to courage than the Democratic candidates. The Republicans were asked 18 hardballs and three softballs. For the Democrats, 11 were softballs and five were hardballs. Courage conclusion: The courage questions overall put the Republicans on the defensive while giving the Democrats more opportunities to appear courageous.
At the conclusion of the conference, Bozell on behalf of CMI challenged the media not only to continue to focus on character but also to approach the topic with greater balance and fairness.
“The media should ask questions based on conservative premises as well as liberal premises, and throw each candidate roughly the same number of hardballs and softballs. If questions about scandals are raised, they should be put to both parties.
“Finally, given the Fox News Channel’s track record for tough but fair questioning on character, the panels of media questioners should include someone from Fox.”
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