WASHINGTON — Conservatives have long complained about the news media's liberal bias. Now they have some fuel to add to their ire.
News stories and editorials about Republican policies by major newspapers and television networks during March were, on balance, negative, according to the Center for Media and Public Affairs (CMPA), a nonpartisan media research group based here.
In editorials, CMPA researchers found that criticism outweighed praise for Republican policies by 2 to 1. News coverage was critical by a 3 to 2 margin, according to the study released yesterday. The CMPA studied editorials and front-page articles in the New York Times, the Washington Post, USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the Washington Times.
In analyzing news stories broadcast on the ABC, CBS, and NBC evening news, CMPA found TV news to be even more negative -- 71 percent negative comments versus 29 percent positive -- than the press.
''[House Speaker Newt] Gingrich has a right to complain,'' says Rich Noyes, CMPA's political studies director. ''But the president could have made the same case during his first two years.''
The negativism stems more from the Washington journalism culture than from any perceived bias on the part of reporters, the report says. ''It is not unusual to find a lot of criticism about anyone in politics today,'' says Mr. Noyes.
Noyes chooses his words carefully. Negative coverage does not equal ''bias,'' he says. And, he adds, an equal number of negative and positive comments about a given issue does not necessarily define ''good'' journalism. Still, he finds the differences between TV and newspapers noteworthy.
Tone of newspapers
Of the five newspapers analyzed, the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Times, both with reputations for being more conservative than the other three, each scored at 47 percent positive toward GOP policies in their news coverage. The CMPA also found that ''the tone of every newspaper's front-page coverage matched the tone of its editorial page.''
News judgment must be factored into the equation. Since only front-page articles were considered in the print news-coverage category, papers like the New York Times that put a lot of welfare-reform coverage on the front page -- laden with negative comments from sources about how the reforms could hurt people -- came out as on balance negative (for the Times, 65 percent negative).
GOP social agenda criticized
The harshest criticism was aimed at Republican policies on abortion, school lunches, and arts and humanities funding, the study says. Proposals to devolve some federal government functions to the states got the best press.
Why did TV coverage rank as the most negative of all? ''It's the way TV White House reporters are doing their job,'' Noyes says. Social issues are one of the biggest areas of Republican policy that TV covered, he says, and there were lots of negative voices out there to quote.