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Media report card: why Mitt Romney got more positive coverage than Obama

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Jae C. Hong/AP/File

(Read caption) Republican presidential candidates verbally gang-tackle President Obama during a presidential debate in Mesa, Ariz., earlier this year.

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A media report card from the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released Monday included a few surprises, as well as a message about the pervasiveness of the media and their power in shaping the public’s perception of the political process.

The Project analyzed the tone and volume of candidate coverage from Jan. 2 through April 15 focusing on 52 key news outlets, but also using computers to track coverage in more than 11,000 news outlets. The team also looked at campaign stories from November through April 15.

That window, however, turned out to be too short. “One of the most remarkable and perhaps depressing things about modern political coverage is how early it starts,” says PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel. As early as August 2011, “We were seeing almost weekly polling.”

On one hand, that shows a media industry engaged in the political process. But the sheer volume and constancy of the reporting is turning politics into a form of white noise for many Americans, says Charles Dunn, a political scientist at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. 

“People are exhausted and overwhelmed by the amount of information,” especially at such early stages of the game, he says. By the time the actual election rolls around in November, many average Americans just want it to be over, he says, “and this does not bode well for the body politic where we need more not less engagement by the voters.”

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