The purpose of this paper is the discuss political media coverage of US President Barack Obama. The discussion will focus on differences in media coverage in the US and the UK and will assess which media group provide more critical coverage of Barack Obama. The first section examines US coverage, it’s drivers, and results.
The second section examines UK coverage, it’s drivers, relationship to and influence from US media and it’s results. The final section analyzes the level and method of critical coverage and concludes that both US and UK media are equally critical in coverage of Barack Obama, but by different method and for different purposes.
In the US, political media coverage is driven and influenced by the elite party leaders of both Democrats and Republicans. What is unique in the 2008 presidential campaigns, elections, and now presidential administration coverage is that both parties have similar agendas which range from right to center meaning generally conservative in position.
This conservative right wing agenda has virtually eliminated left or liberal positions from US media coverage. Even when reputable opinion polls show strong support of liberal issues such as nationalized health care, the US media fails to reflect those opinions in their coverage. The result is that the American public may be pictured as more conservative than it really is.
Generally the Democratic party is associated with left wing and liberal ideals while the Republican party is associated with right wing and conservative ideals. That being the case, US media coverage should have indicated and been characterized by stronger support for John McCain, the Republican nominee, during the 2008 election cycle. That, however, was not the case.
US political coverage of Barack Obama has not been all positive. During the 2008 campaigns there was an equal amount of negative and positive coverage. What was unique in this election cycle was the amount of coverage focused on Barack Obama. Barack Obama received greater focus both in the US and international media coverage.
This saturation affect neutralized the effect of either positive or negative coverage. The saturation effect changed the primary campaign question from should John McCain or Barack Obama become president, to assuming that Barack Obama is going to become the next US president, is that good or bad. Even in the days following the election, inauguration, and opening days of the Obama administration the focus and question still remains the same, is Obama and his policies good or bad.
One critical difference between US and UK media that has driven the level of coverage of Obama, particularly during the campaign, is political advertising is banned in the UK whereas it a staple of political media coverage in the US. In the US the advertising industry is deeply involved in, and in a driving force in political media coverage, however in the UK the newspaper industry, by legal design, is more involved and influential in political media coverage.
The newspaper industry in the UK is drastically different from outlets in other parts of Europe and the US. While television and radio are the first lines of information, UK newspapers are more influential in coverage due to massive nationalized circulation, and strong and varied political affiliations which drive the content and level of political coverage. Newspapers are, therefore, the core of political information and opinion, and other media outlets base their coverage on what appears in newspapers first.
The 2008 US presidential election received a high level of coverage in UK media outlets. UK journalists have been focused on Barack Obama’s platform of change as much as US media has and have presented him in a positive light as an agent of change. The positive UK media coverage of Obama’s change platform has led UK media to focus on and build David Cameron, the Conservative Party leader, as the UK counterpart to Barack Obama.
This is problematic for the Labor Party and Prime Minister Gordon Brown who had been all but written off by media late in 2008. UK newspapers are likened to US talk radio. The general tone and tenor of attack propaganda that is displayed in US talk radio can be read in UK newspapers. UK press is opinionated and expressive in the way that talk radio hosts are in the US. This is especially important since, according to Nicholas Jones, more than 66% of readers of UK newspapers, through websites, are outside of the UK and overwhelmingly in the US. UK newspapers will begin to focus on coverage that appeals to American and other outside readers.
Who is More Critical
The US media is clearly more critical than UK media. UK media is at least as critical as US media given its driving influence in UK media coverage of American politics, the 2008 US presidential elections, and the opening days of the Obama administration. What is important in assessing the differences in US and UK coverage of Barack Obama is the goal and purpose of coverage. The US media seeks to define US public opinion through it’s presentation of public opinion.
The UK media seeks to meet a growing demand of an international niche market of American readership which has been defined as conservative and right wing by it’s own media sources. UK media also seeks to further it’s own political agenda by drawing comparisons to Obama by supporting and presenting UK leaders as either agents of change or by ignoring them in the way that US media virtually ignored Obama’s rivals.
The US media has presented public opinion as conservative and right leaning. However political coverage and focus on Barack Obama was never consistent with this public opinion image. With equal amounts of negative and positive coverage, Barack Obama alone was the focus of most media coverage in the US and abroad. US media failed to focus on the differences in two candidates and engaged in debate over whether the one candidate was essentially good or bad.
American readership is a fast growing segment of UK media circulation and drives the type and style of political coverage in UK media outlets. As a result, UK media followed suit of US media in focusing on Barack Obama in terms of the pros and cons of Obama instead of focusing on alternatives that the rival candidate presented to Obama’s platform of change even to the extent of seeking a comparable change agent in the UK political environment to build as the UK equivalent to the US agent for change.
Jones, N. US-style attack advertising is on its way to the UK via Britain’s highly-politicised press. Nicholas Jones archive and blog. Retrieved March 30, 2009, from http://www.nicholasjones.org.uk/index. php?option=com_content&task=view&id=71& Itemid=4
Kumar, D. A New Era?: The 2008 US Elections, Public Opinion, and the Mass Media. Fifth-Estate-Online. Retrieved March 30, 2009, from http://www.fifth-estate-online.co.uk/c omment/commentkumar.html