Every four years, the network news machines crank themselves up to cover the presidential election campaigns. What we get is often a mix of sound bites, horserace standings, and scandals. In Campaign 2000, we also got network meltdown on election night and then, the Florida fiasco. This book looks at campaign coverage over the past four presidential elections and tracks its tailspin in terms of accuracy, balance, and overall quality and quantity. Acclaimed media scholars Farnsworth and Lichter use extensive data from the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Media and Public Affairs to document the decline of network news. Analyzing the content of over 5,800 network campaign stories and 9,500 campaign items from other sources ranging from public television to newspapers to campaign speeches, the authors compare what the candidates said with what the networks say they said and judge the disparity a nightmare. The unprecedented breadth and depth of the evidence allow Farnsworth and Lichter to shatter old myths and shift the terms of the debate about the relationship between news and newsmakers. Proposing sweeping reforms affecting the news organizations, the political process, and the candidates themselves, the authors take media analysis to an unprecedented level. As they indisputably demonstrate, the old order is gone, but what replaces it may make it tough to sleep at night for those who care about the news.
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Stephen J. Farnsworth is associate professor of political science at Mary Washington College and a former newspaper journalist. S. Robert Lichter is professor of communication at George Mason University, where he directs the Center for Media and Public Affairs, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media research organization.
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