Media Coverage of the 2005 Governor's Race: A Comparison to Presidential Election News Coverage

For decades,growing numbers of scholarly studies have criticized mass media coverage of election campaigns as generally unhelpful to voters. Key complaints have included that the coverage often focuses on the horse race rather than how the candidates would address important issues and that reporters appear to treat some candidates more harshly than others. Do reporters covering Virginia gubernatorial elections do a better job than their counterparts on the presidential election campaign trail? This article by two media scholars, Stephen J. Farnsworth of the University of Mary Washington and S. Robert Lichter of George Mason University, analyzes the content of newspaper and television stories on the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial contest between Lt. Gov.Tim Kaine, the Democratic nominee; Jerry Kilgore, the Republican nominee, who had been serving as attorney general; and state Sen. H. Russell Potts Jr., a maverick Republican who campaigned as an independent. Kaine ended up receiving 52 percent of the vote, Kilgore 46 percent, and Potts less than 3 percent. "While we hesitate to generalize too much from news coverage of a single gubernatorial campaign," the authors write, "when we compare the results of the state press corps to the national press treatment of presidential elections, we find much more effective journalism in the state-level campaign." There are frequent allegations of partisan bias in national election coverage, especially with television news – a trend that the researchers said was not reflected in state election coverage.
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The Virginia News Letter