Lingering Questions: The Fairness Doctrine and the 2008 Presidential Campaign Coverage in Western Pennsylvania
Laurel Highlands Communications Conference, Department of Communications Media at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, September 24-25, 2009
28 Pages Posted: 21 Oct 2009
Date Written: September 24, 2009
The purpose of this study was to examine whether or not the demise of the Fairness Doctrine caused measurable bias in the news coverage of the 2008 Presidential Campaign between Senator John McCain (R) and then Senator Barak Obama (D). The demographic area involved Western Pennsylvania and included the markets of Altoona and Johnstown as well as the Pittsburgh television stations; both their local as well as affiliated national network coverage. A group of ten recorders were assigned to time and evaluate news stories on specific channels shown during the evening news shows on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday evenings from October 1, 2008 through Election Day, November 4, 2008 (The evenings were chosen randomly and were based on the availability of the recorders.) The results indicate that while the McCain Campaign received more news coverage than the Obama Campaign, that there were more negative news stories about McCain. In addition, and not surprisingly, there was less coverage of the Campaigns on the smaller stations called “Local-Local” for the purposes of the study. In the final analysis, it was shown that although there was more coverage of the McCain Campaign there were also more stories that were shown which could be construed as negative. Also included was a sub-analysis of selected Campaign Advertisements broadcast. No definitive conclusions were reached as to whether or not the Fairness Doctrine and related Election Laws should be reinstated or broadened. However, several additional studies are suggested including a replication of this study for the 2012 and 2016 elections as well as the possibility of conducting this methodology in a different but demographically similar market.
Keywords: 2008 Presidential Campaign, Fairness, Broadcasting, Equal Time, Equal Access, Bias
JEL Classification: Z00
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation