President Obama "has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment" of all presidential candidates over the past five months, according to a study released Monday from the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.
Pew found that Mr. Obama was the subject of negative assessments nearly four times as often as he was the subject of positive assessments. It found he received "positive" coverage nine percent of the time, "neutral" coverage 57 percent of the time and "negative" coverage 34 percent of the time.
The study, which was conducted using a combination of "traditional media research methods [and] computer algorithms to track the level and tone of coverage," cuts against the widespread conservative claim that the "liberal media" aides Mr. Obama and other Democrats while attacking Republicans.
Pew says it looked at coverage from more than 11,500 news outlets, including local and national broadcasts, news websites and blogs.
Mr. Obama's negative coverage could be explained in part by the fact that he is "covered largely as president rather than a candidate," Pew said - and coverage of him is linked to the struggling economy.
Among the Republican presidential candidates, Pew found that Rick Perry has received the most positive coverage of all the candidates, with 32 percent positive coverage. He was followed by Sarah Palin (31 percent), Michele Bachmann (31 percent), Herman Cain (28 percent) and Mitt Romney (26 percent.) Palin, a vocal critic of the media, ultimately decided not to seek the GOP nomination.
Perry had the best ratio of any candidate, with 32 percent positive coverage to 20 percent negative coverage, a 12 percent net positive ratings in terms of coverage. He was followed by Palin (with 9 percent net positive coverage), Bachmann (8 percent net positive), Cain (5 percent net positive), Ron Paul and Jon Huntsman (both with 4 percent net positive coverage.) Pew found that Cain surged in positive coverage starting in late August - even before he did so in the polls.
The only candidate who received more negative coverage than Mr. Obama was Newt Gingrich, whom Pew found was the subject of negative coverage 35 percent of the time. That can be attrubited in part to his early stumbles, including his criticism of the House GOP Medicare plan and the decision by top staffers to abandom Gingrich's campaign. While Pew found that Mr. Obama received just nine percent positive coverage, however, Gingrich received 15 percent positive coverage.
The candidates with the worst coverage ratio were Mr. Obama (25 percent net negative coverage), Gingrich (20 percent net negative), Rick Santorum (3 percent net negative) and Mitt Romney (1 percent net negative.)
As Politico's Keach Hagey notes, Pew found that Mr. Obama had widely positive media coverage during his first 100 days in office, with 42 percent positive coverage and 20 percent negative coverage.
Here's how Pew in part explains its meathodology - more can be found here:
To assess the tone of coverage, PEJ researchers then employed computer algorithmic software from Crimson Hexagon. Researchers conducted a tone analysis and then "trained" the algorithm to follow the same rules as they had themselves. PEJ also conducted inter-coder tests to ensure the computer coding was replicable and valid by comparing human coding to the results derived by the algorithm. The project also had different people build the algorithms separately to ensure that they were achieving consistent results. Each computer algorithm was then additionally tested for reliability by having multiple researchers review the content assessed and the results.
The tone analysis was conducted on two different samples. The first was of the coverage and commentary on more than 11,500 news outlets, based on their RSS feeds. While the content is text based, the material on various television news sites often closely resembled the stories that had aired on television, and in some cases were exact transcripts. The second was from hundreds of thousands of blogs. (Facebook and Twitter feeds were not included after researchers found that the political assessment offered there was typically quite brief or referred to blog or news content.)