It is one of the core complaints of Hillary Clinton's loyalists -- the media has been harsh toward her and soft on Barack Obama.
But an exhaustive new study out today suggests that if anyone has a bone to pick, it's Republican John McCain.
While the narratives about Obama's character were 69 percent positive and those about Clinton's were 67 percent positive, only 43 percent of them were positive for McCain, according to the analysis by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics, and Public Policy at Harvard University.
"From January 1, just before the Iowa caucuses, through March 9, following the Texas and Ohio contests, the height of the primary season, the dominant personal narratives in the media about Obama and Clinton were almost identical in tone, and were both twice as positive as negative, according to the study, which examined the coverage of the candidates’ character, history, leadership and appeal -- apart from the electoral results and the tactics of their campaigns," according to a release about the study.
"The trajectory of the coverage, however, began to turn against Obama, and did so well before questions surfaced about his pastor Jeremiah Wright. Shortly after Clinton criticized the media for being soft on Obama during a debate, the narrative about him began to turn more skeptical -- and indeed became more negative than the coverage of Clinton herself. What’s more, an additional analysis of more general campaign topics suggests the Obama narrative became even more negative later in March, April and May," the summary continues.
"On the Republican side, John McCain, the candidate who quickly clinched his party’s nomination, has had a harder time controlling his message in the press. Fully 57% of the narratives studied about him were critical in nature, though a look back through 2007 reveals the storyline about the Republican nominee has steadily improved with time."
The study notes, however, that while "public perceptions of McCain and Obama ... largely tracked with the tenor of the press coverage’s major narrative themes," with Clinton, "the public seemed to have developed opinions about her that ran counter to the media coverage, perhaps based on a pre-existing negative disposition to her that unfolded over the course of the campaign."
The dominant positive character trait for Obama in the coverage was that he represents hope and change, while the most prominent negative theme was criticism that he is inexperienced, the study found.
For Clinton, the primary positive trait was that she is ready to lead on day one, and the dominant negative theme was that she represents the politics of the past.
And for McCain, his coverage was dominated by the assertion that he is not a true or reliable conservative, the study concluded.
About Political Intelligence
Glen Johnson is Politics Editor at boston.com and lead blogger for "Political Intelligence." He moved to Massachusetts in the fourth grade, and has covered local, state, and national politics for over 25 years. E-mail him at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @globeglen.