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LexisNexis: No Liberal Tilt for Obama

Long a favorite target of right wing talk radio, the liberal media might not be so liberal after all, according to a news analysis from data-services provider LexisNexis.

Since early July, once it was clear which candidate would carry his party's banner in the upcoming presidential election, LexisNexis has been comparing the media coverage of Barack Obama and John McCain through an analysis of more than 2,700 major U.S. media outlets.

The side-by-side study found that while there have been roughly one-third more stories produced about Obama than his Republican opponent, the coverage does not betray a bias for or against either candidate.

"The data seems to suggest that the overall volume of coverage is more, the sentiment of the coverage seems to be about the same," LexisNexis spokesman Marc Osborn told InternetNews.com.

LexisNexis maintains what it calls the Media Coverage Sentiment Index, which parses news coverage across multiple media formats with an algorithm trained to search for certain phrases and interpret verbal constructions to assign the story a rating of "positive," "neutral" or "negative."

Looking at last week, when speculation about Obama's running mate announcement on the eve of the Democratic convention was on its own enough to fill a 24-hour news cycle, Obama received 47 percent more coverage than McCain, according to LexisNexis. But even in the midst of that feeding frenzy, the sentiment index broke out as follows:

Stories about each candidate that were rated positive: Obama 33 percent; McCain 36 percent.

Stories rated neutral: Obama 38 percent; McCain 32 percent.

Stories rated negative: Obama 29 percent; McCain 32 percent.

"Everyone wants to see that their candidates are getting kicked around by the media, but the data don't seem to support that," Osborn said.

Adding an important caveat ("I'm not a political pundit, and I don't have a crystal ball"), Osborn suggested that Obama's campaign was generating a greater volume of coverage simply because it is "somewhat historic."

The index examines news reports across newspapers, magazines, Web sites, television and radio. Asked how the treatment of each candidate differed from, say, print to Web, Osborn said that the coverage across all formats was "very similar."

But what about that old chestnut that Obama is the first bona fide candidate to "get" the Web? Shouldn't that translate into a huge lift in terms of online coverage? Yes and no.

LexisNexis found no discernable bias among large online news outlets. A more comprehensive scan of the Web by media-tracking firm Nielsen tells a different story.

In July, Nielsen recorded 3.3 million visitors to BarackObama.com, compared to 1.6 million to JohnMcCain.com.

The same month, the Obama for America campaign hit 417.9 million impressions, more than 13 times the 31.6 million impressions the McCain campaign tallied. It is worth noting that McCain has been reaching more people through search ads than Obama, but Obama's massive display campaign makes him far and away the larger online advertiser of the two.

Nielsen also offers a zeitgeist tracker, which compiles mentions of a topic on blogs and discussion boards, and presents the "buzz" metric as that topic's percentage of the aggregate online conversation.

By that metric, Obama's "buzz" quotient from June 1 to Aug 18 was 0.77 percent; McCain's was 0.35 percent.

While it doesn't measure sentiment, a quick look at Nielsen's list of the blogs spending the most time talking about the candidates is revealing. The top four blogs mentioning McCain in messages are unabashedly liberal (or "progressive," if you prefer): The Huffington Post, DailyKos, Think Progress and Crooks and Liars. No. 5, The Moderate Voice, is not properly classified as liberal or conservative.

Those mentioning Obama, in contrast, offer the candidate a much more sympathetic forum. Like McCain, the top two blogs discussing Obama are Huffington and DailyKos. No. 3, American Thinker, is a conservative vehicle, while the centrist Moderate Voice ranks fourth, followed by the left-leaning News Hounds.

So to reconcile the two data sets, perhaps it is fair to say that mainstream media appears to be marching in the middle of the road, if LexisNexis' algorithms are to be believed. Meantime, the blogosphere seems firmly Obama's dominion.