With less than 24 hours to go until the polls close and the 2012 presidential election is, for all intensive purposes, over, the time has finally come to tally up the stats and begin to try and make sense of the past couple years of madness. We'll leave the poll tracking and vote counting to Nate Silver -- or the state election boards or whatever -- as the end of the election cycle offers a deeply fascinating glimpse into the greatest he-said, she-said machine there is: the cable news.
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To put it bluntly, the cable news has been pretty nasty this election cycle. Jeremy Peters at The New York Times just published his retrospective take on how the candidates fared during primetime and found that negative press was pretty standard for both candidates these past few months. For whatever reason, though, Barack Obama received not only more press during the race but also more positive press. According to a Pew Research Center survey released at the end of last week, a solid 74 percent of the election coverage at Fox News featured Obama, whereas only 46 percent featured Romney. The split between Obama and McCain was about even in 2008. Obama also received more positive coverage in general, when taking into account 49 separate outlets.
Since he's the incumbent and all, one would expect the president to get a little bit more attention, but Obama's victory in the media has as much to do with the quality of coverage as it does with the quantity. For instance, 46 percent of the Obama coverage on Fox News was negative. That sounds pretty bad until you take into account that 71 percent of the Mitt Romney coverage on MSNBC was negative. Negative is another word for nasty. Quoting Peters:
[MSNBC host Lawrence] O'Donnell was forced to apologize in April after describing the Mormon Churchas nothing more than a scheme cooked up by a man who "got caught having sex with the maid and explained to his wife that God told him to do it." … The hosts insult and mock, like Alex Wagner did in recently describing Mr. Romney's trip overseas as "National Lampoon's European Vacation" -- a line she borrowed from an Obama spokeswoman. Mr. Romney was not only hapless, Ms. Wagner said, he also looked "disheveled" and "a little bit sweaty" in a recent appearance.
Well no wonder Mitt's been a little bit irritable lately! We don't really need to point out that the commentary that makes its way onto primetime cable television is remarkably watered down compared to more, ermm, open-ended forms of media. In other words, Twitter.
Nevertheless, we can expect a new round of scrutiny to be slung at the cable news outlets when the dust settles after Tuesday. Actually, that's already begun. Alan Colmes, former host of Hannity and Colmes, offered up a good preview of that debate on Fox News on Monday. "The press goes where the momentum is," said Colmes. "I don't think as a whole you say the press is automatically bias although I know conservatives feel that way and I think conservatives probably are gaming it so when Romney loses, they can say, 'Look the press did it.'"