A Closer Look: Campaign Coverage Biased? Media analyst Andrew Tyndall has spent 20 years monitoring the three major networks' nightly news coverage. He joins Farai Chideya to share his analysis of the media's coverage of the presidential race.
NPR logo

A Closer Look: Campaign Coverage Biased?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/92776749/92776741" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
A Closer Look: Campaign Coverage Biased?

A Closer Look: Campaign Coverage Biased?

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/92776749/92776741" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


And now we're going to turn to media analyst Andrew Tyndall. He's the publisher of the tyndallreport.com which analyzes the three major networks nightly news coverage. Welcome back to the show, Andrew.

Mr. ANDREW TYNDALL (Media Analyst, andrewtyndall.com): Hey, Farai. How are you doing?

CHIDEYA: I'm doing great. So, big question. Is Obama getting more coverage than McCain?

Mr. TYNDALL: Obama is getting more coverage than McCain by an order of magnitude. Since the primary season ended, which is really the first - the first time the two being head to head and the contest with Hillary Rodham Clinton hasn't been in the way. On the nightly newscast Obama has gotten more than twice the number of minutes than John McCain. He's an absolutely media phenomenon.

CHIDEYA: Does that mean that McCain is getting less coverage than is normal for a presidential candidate?

Mr. TYNDALL: No. Absolutely it does not. There's no way that you could say that McCain is being under covered compared to the norms of previous campaign. My data - I've been looking at the nightly news now for 20 years, so I got the numbers for the amount of time on the broadcast network newscasts for five previous campaigns. And in fact McCain is been getting - has gotten more coverage this year so far than any previous Republican candidate in any of the previous five campaigns. So it's not that McCain is being under covered, it's that Barack Obama is getting coverage the likes of which we have never seen.

CHIDEYA: Well, we just heard Ron Elving - our own NPR's Ron Elving, saying that this is just a - it's kind of a format breaker of an election, that there is all these factors that you don't have in any other historical election. Do you agree that that's part of the issue here?

Mr. TYNDALL: Yes it is. The election itself is a format breaker but also I think the style of journalism has also adapted to comply with the fact that this is such a dynamic election. I think what happened is the journalists - television journalists anyway, have learned their lessons from the latest genre of television that's in entertainment television which is the reality game show. A format that's become popular over the last four or six years or so. So this is really the first election where they've been able to take the lessons from "Survivor" or the "American Idol" or "Big Brother" and apply them to the political journalism. So basically this campaign is being treated as a concept between larger than life personalities facing ordeals, and we're going to find out who's the last one remaining on the island.

CHIDEYA: Do you think that that approach is driven by the audience, if you can put it that way, the voters, or is it driven by the media?

Mr. TYNDALL: You know, I think this year the actual candidates are larger than life candidates, and I think they lend themselves to this approach. You know, Ron said earlier that we have the new demographic groups being represented in the leading candidates but it's more than that. It's - you've got archetypal larger than life characters that the campaign can be used to discuss things that are over and beyond just where particular parties position might be on gasoline or Iraq or things like that.

We're talking about huge issues here like, you know, what's the difference between the generations, between the Vietnam war generation and the younger generation? What's the role of African Americans in leadership in society? Is there a glass ceiling for women to break through? These are huge societal issues and they're being represented by these larger than life candidates.

CHIDEYA: Speaking of archetypes and demographics when it came to the primary season, how did Senator McCain stack up not just against Senator Obama, but also Senator Clinton?

Mr. TYNDALL: Yeah, absolutely. The best way to see the primary campaign, you know, the first five months of this year is really too see it as a three-way race rather than a two-way race. And basically the major contest was between the young, attractive, good-speaking oratorical black man and the experienced glass-ceiling breaking woman, and the wily grizzled vets came in, sort of had a third place role there, but nevertheless got some coverage. If you rank - once ranked the number of minutes that they got, Obama got most of the - Rodham Clinton got second, and McCain got about half as much as Obama got.

CHIDEYA: All right. Just very briefly, what do you see ahead in terms of the parity or lack thereof for Obama and McCain?

Mr. TYNDALL: Yeah, I think what Ron said about the end of the day he wants to see all the candidates treated equally. His wish will not be fulfilled is my prediction. As far as I can see, this election is election where Obama is getting all of the scrutiny. Now, when you said media bias, I don't want you to think that this means he's getting all the scrutiny and that scrutiny is positive. He's getting positive scrutiny, he's getting negative scrutiny, and he's getting scrutiny about trivial things that are not normally newsworthy. But my prediction is that the end of the day this is going to be an election where it's going to be about Barack Obama, is he qualified for the job? If he turns out to be, he'll get elected, and if he turns not to be, then McCain will be elected.

CHIDEYA: All right. Andrew, thank so much.

Mr. TYNDALL: Great to talk to you, Farai.

CHIDEYA: Media analyst Andrew Tyndall. He's the publisher of tyndallreport.com, which has been analyzing the network's nightly news coverage for 20 years. And we want to know what you think about the media's coverage of the presidential candidates. Go to our blog at nprnewsandviews.org.

Copyright © 2008 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.