When times get tough for politicians, they're usually not shy about blaming the media for their sagging fortunes.
The press is an easy target since most such criticism rests on perceptions and feelings rather than concrete, or even academic studies. But on Monday, a report from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism sought to quantify just how positive or negative the media's treatment of President Obama and the field of Republican presidential candidates has really been.
Obama has been the victim of "unrelentingly negative" coverage in the media, said the report, which looked at coverage of candidates between early May and early October.
Obama received tougher treatment in the media relative to the Republican candidates vying for his job, the study found, challenging the narrative that Obama is the beneficiary of easier treatment by the press.
Negative coverage for the president outweighed positive coverage in each of the 23 weeks included in the study. On average, 9 percent of the stories about Obama were positive, compared to the 34 percent of coverage over the same time period that researchers deemed as negative. That time period even included Osama bin Laden’s death.
The negative trend for Obama can be attributed in part to the poor economy and political developments.
"It's a combination of the economy worsening, falling approval polls that follow that, and then the anticipation of the political impact that might have leading into the campaign," said Tom Rosensteil, the director of the Project for Excellence in Journalism. "The press and the political press in particular operate a little bit like Wall Street investors; they're not just reporting on what happened, but they're building expectations about what happens next."
The coverage of the Republican presidential candidates was more positive.
Pew said that Texas Gov. Rick Perry "had received the most coverage and the most positive coverage" of any of the candidates, though the treatment of his campaign in the press tilted negatively in recent weeks.
Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who's one of Perry's biggest rivals for the nomination, received mixed, but consistent, coverage. On average, 26 percent of the stories about Romney were positive, and 27 percent were negative.
The Republican candidate with the most negative coverage was Newt Gingrich. Thirty-five percent of the stories about the former House Speaker were negative. That's a higher proportion of negative stories for Gingrich than even for the president, though at 15 percent, Gingrich received more positive press than Obama.
Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who's complained that the media has ignored his campaign, got ammunition for that claim. Of the stories examined by Pew, Paul was the subject of just 1.7 percent -- the worst share of stories for any of the Republican presidential hopefuls.
The study was conducted by the staff of the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in journalism, and used traditional content analysis as well as computer technology. More details about the methodology can be found here.