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Why Obama Is Enjoying Favorable Press

By Andy Alexander

In my column yesterday, I noted a recent study concluding that President Obama "has enjoyed substantially more positive media coverage than either Bill Clinton of George W. Bush during their first months in the White House."

That study, by the Pew Research Center's Project on Excellence in Journalism, offered some interesting insights into why.

"One element is the pace and sweep of Obama's activities," it said. "Bush and Clinton both started their presidencies pursuing policy agendas much more of their own making than Obama has. But the data suggest the current president has managed the media narrative by responding to the economic crisis with so many new proposals and doing so many events that it has been hard for both his critics and the media to keep up."

Another possible factor: "Obama also entered office with a stronger popular mandate than either of his two predecessors. He is the first president since George H.W. Bush in 1988 to be elected to his first term with more than 50% of the popular vote. He also succeeded a president leaving office with historically low favorability ratings."

And, there's this: "Past studies have shown a recurring pattern of press coverage tending to follow favorability ratings."

A nationwide Washington Post-ABC News poll released April 26 gave Obama a 69 percent approval rating.

What do you think? What's behind the positive coverage of the president so far?

By Andy Alexander  | May 4, 2009; 10:04 AM ET
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"What do you think? What's behind the positive coverage of the president so far?"

Positive actions.

Posted by: jgau4 | May 4, 2009 2:40 PM | Report abuse

It is hard to be critical of a politician who not only talked the talk during the election, he is now walking the walk. That positive alone negates most everything else.

Posted by: AverageJane | May 4, 2009 3:27 PM | Report abuse

I agree with jgau: it isn't rocket science. By and large Obama hasn't screwed up anything, he's taking the serious problems seriously, ignoring the nonsense stuff, hasn't been wildly partisan, and is (correctly) judged as not being the cause of the country's various problems but rather the recipient of Bush admin. disasters. At his press conferences and appearances he's been calm, intelligent, articulate (i.e., not a fumbling moron like his predecessor), in possession of his facts, and otherwise an intelligent adult. So why shouldn't coverage be positive, given all that?

Posted by: curmudgeon-1 | May 4, 2009 3:32 PM | Report abuse

"And, there's this: 'Past studies have shown a recurring pattern of press coverage tending to follow favorability ratings.'"

Ah, but where do high favorability ratings come from? Isn't it kind of a chicken-or-egg question?

If a president did something favor-worthy in a forest, where there was no one to write down and publish a favorable news report, would it affect their favorability rating one way or another?

Posted by: CalD | May 4, 2009 7:16 PM | Report abuse

Gee, too bad the Ombudsman can't even conceive of the concept that Obama's favorable coverage has anything to do with the fact that journalists are in the tank for him.

Posted by: bobmoses | May 4, 2009 8:04 PM | Report abuse

There is a strange concept among some political observers and newspaper pundits that suggests that "balance" means that there are an equal number of opinions, articles, photographs, favorable and unfavorable adjectives, etc., posted on each side of any controversial issue. This idea of balance denies the possibility that one side of a debate might actually have more validity than the other side.

That more journalists write favorable opinions of the performance of Barack Obama, than to the contrary, could very well be because he is doing his new job very well. The is no reason to presume bias on the part of the media. And, in fact, if 7 out of 10 Americans think he is doing a good job, it is quite possible that he actually is. Reporting otherwise in the interest of "balance" would be disingenuous and fraudulent.

Posted by: svand | May 5, 2009 5:55 AM | Report abuse

Keeping the public informed about what is happening in government is key to keeping the trust of the public. President Obama's willingness to admit mistakes is something that was sorely missed in the last administration. His candor is probably a factor in his high approval ratings.

As a digression, to echo the sentiments of svand, "balance" in reporting creates the false notion that one side is inherently equal to the other, regardless of how effective, true or well-intentioned an issue is.

The classic example of this being the (so-called) debate on science education. Balance in this realm means to give voice to a multitude of discredited ideas which have no support aside from their progenitors and no evidence to back up their claims. (see "Intelligent Design")

Posted by: Junk_jungle | May 5, 2009 9:18 AM | Report abuse

the feather-light coverage of The One is related to race. People are tiptoeing around criticism as no-one wants to be seen as the wet blanket who calls out our African-American president.
This was even truer in the campaign. He is coasting along with a wink and a nod, and the lack of coverage of the deficits he is building is proof of this.
Any mainstream president of either party who was 'plain vanilla' would have been lacerated in the press for even proposing such massive obligations. For The One, a hushed silence.
The Great Recession calls for severe and swift actions. But simply saying "charge it" with these dollar figures is hubris and recklessness on a scale previously unseen in this great nation.

Posted by: nancyjeanmail | May 5, 2009 10:10 AM | Report abuse

Isn't there just conceivably a remote possibility that both public and media think he's doing a good job?

Posted by: donnolo | May 5, 2009 10:52 AM | Report abuse

In addition to other reasons people have cited, there are these:

He's unique: Obama clearly knows his stuff, can talk intelligently about foreign policy, the economy, science, and politics; and is directly involved in formulating policy in all areas. Most people living today have never seen a President like that, so he's a novelty.

Even Obama's critics (the sane ones) realize that he's inherited the worst mess we've seen in at least 50 years, and give him credit for dealing with it in a creditable way (even if they don't agree with every step he's taking).

Posted by: threeoaksgone | May 5, 2009 2:58 PM | Report abuse

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