Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Spears and Hilton Boost McCain Media Attention

John McCain's recent ad buy highlighting Barack Obama's celebrity has helped shift some media attention back to the GOP side. The Pew Research Organization has the report, "Spears and Hilton Raise McCain Coverage Even With Obama":

For the first time since this general election campaign began in early June, Republican John McCain attracted virtually as much media attention as his Democratic rival last week.

Barack Obama was a significant or dominant factor in 81% of the campaign stories compared with 78% for McCain, according to PEJ's Campaign Coverage Index for July 28-Aug. 3. That was a high water mark for McCain in the general election season (his previous best was 62% from June 30-July 6) . And the virtual dead heat in the race for exposure between the two candidates also marked the first time his weekly coverage had even been within 10 percentage points of Obama's total. Indeed, in the eight weeks since early June when the general election contest began, 79% of the stories have significantly featured Obama, compared with 55% for his Republican rival.

The spike in press attention to the McCain campaign came a week after Obama's tour of the Middle East and Europe commandeered the headlines, accounting for half the election coverage for July 21-27. It also came a week after the media engaged in a spasm of introspection, amid a wave of accusations that the media was being unfair to the GOP standard bearer. The third biggest campaign storyline for July 21-27 was the issue of whether the press was biased toward and lavishing too much attention on Obama.

Last week, the McCain campaign also drove the narrative by directly tackling that perception in a controversial ad. It described Obama as "the biggest celebrity in the world" and featured images of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton - two tabloid favorites known more for hard-partying lifestyles than any other achievements. (It was a relatively big week for Spears, too. First, she was featured in the ad. Then an Obama spokesman responded to that spot by accusing McCain of another negative attack, saying "Oops! He did it again" -- which is a play on the title of her hit single.)

The "celebrity" spot also helped push campaign advertising to a more prominent place in the coverage. Advertising was the second-biggest campaign story line last week, filling 10% of the campaign newshole. The ripple effects were felt throughout the week as the ad itself generated another narrative - whether the McCain campaign was too negative - that filled 6% of the newshole. The tone of the campaign, and the new McCain ad, then triggered a third major story line. When Obama accused Republicans of trying to frighten Americans because he "doesn't look like all those other presidents on those dollar bills," the McCain team responded by accusing Obama of playing the "race card." And that controversy, at 15%, became the biggest campaign narrative of all.
There's more at the link:

Note a couple of points: This reseach presents
a solid content analysis of the distribution of news coverage. As such, it should help put to rest some of the debate over media bias toward Barack Obama.

Moreover, the report should validate the McCain campaign's shift to a more in-your-face style of political combat.
As I've noted, Obama has lost ground in recent polling trends.

And as
Pew indicates:

McCain's attack advertising strategy, which played off the notion that the press was infatuated with Obama, blended with the McCain theme that Obama offered less than meets the eye, drove the media narrative last week.
Still, the GOP should hammer Obama and the Democrats on their policy weaknesses, while McCain build his own message into a compelling theme. See also, Allahpundit, "McCain Finally Getting Almost as Much Media Coverage as Obama."