On November 9, PEJ released a report that looked at a sub-sample of news outlets that mirrored the roughly four dozen news organizations we track in our weekly News Coverage Index coding measuring the topics in the news. This sub-sample represents the major news outlets from print, online, radio, and network broadcast and cable TV news and might be described as an "elite" sample based on audience size.
That Nov. 9 report, which covered May 2 to Nov. 6, found little variation in the overall tone of candidate news coverage between the broader news sample of more than 11,500 outlets and the subset of 47 elite media outlets. There were instances over those six months in which elite media tended to move faster when the narrative about a candidate was changing, such as when the tone of elite media coverage of Rick Perry shifted to more negative than positive in mid-September after some controversial debate performances. It would be three weeks later, following further Perry stumbles, before the tone turned in the broader news media sample.
Coverage of the president hardly varied between the two media samples.
In this update, looking back at the last several weeks of coverage, we again found only modest, but interesting distinctions. There was little difference in the coverage of the two candidates now most prominent in the polls, Romney and Gingrich.
In the case of Gingrich, in both media samples coverage in November has been somewhat more negative than positive. And in both, the amount of both positive and negative assertions about Gingrich has been rising while the number of strictly neutral or factual ones has been falling.
In the case of Romney, the coverage in both samples has also been more negative than positive in the last month, in contrast to many weeks prior of a fairly mixed narrative.
Where we find differences between the so-called elite media outlets and the broader swath of news media studied is in the coverage of the two candidates whose campaigns appeared to be in the most trouble, Cain and Perry.
For Perry, the elite media in the last month has tended to be less positive and to some lesser degree more negative.
In the case of Cain, the narrative was more sharply drawn in the elite media. In the four weeks since allegations first surfaced in Politico about his sexual conduct, the elite media had a smaller percentage of positive assertions about Cain and a higher percentage of negative ones than has the broad media sample. As Cain responded to the allegations from several women, generating criticism for his handling of this crisis, the elite media portrayal of the state and viability of Cain’s candidacy had grown more skeptical than that seen elsewhere. By early December, Cain’s candidacy was over.