HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for CBS News’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
CBS PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
Across the three weeks of the study CBS News repeatedly chose simple, clear images for both men, where they appeared often alone and in relative close-ups. Faces appeared to matter more to CBS than context.
CBS PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
Researchers noted that the tone of CBS’s photos of Obama remained quite positive over the course of the study, while images of Romney shifted in tone from “negative” to “positive” and then to a balance between the two.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by CBS during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 172 photos from CBS News over the three weeks of the general election — 82 photos of Pres. Obama and 90 photos of Gov. Romney.
- While Romney was pictured alone more than Obama, researchers pinned a large number of photos of Romney and Obama together or in a split-screen shot. Many of the photos were from the presidential debates. These photos were used multiple times, especially during the days leading up to and after the presidential debates.
- As befitting its background as a legacy TV news outlet, CBS News online illustrates its website extensively with videos and thumbnail “teaser” photos, neither of which researchers could typically pin to Pinterest during the PrezPix study. That inability to capture those visuals on the site, altered how well researchers could duplicate the visual experience that visitors to the site would have had.
- Researchers also noted that on occasion during the general election (for example the weekend of October 19-21), CBS illustrated a significant number of its presidential campaign stories not with pictures of the candidates out campaigning, but instead with analysis represented via videos of talking heads. The attention to analysis over breaking news, and the inability of researchers to be able to pin videos, meant that there were a strikingly low number of photos pinned during those days.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from CBS coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — Two weeks before the first debate, researchers coding CBS News noted a greater proportion of “positive” images for Obama than Romney — not surprising, perhaps, as Obama was high in the polls after the minimal bounce of the Republican National Convention and the fallout from the leaked “47 percent” video. Researchers coded a similar percentage of “negative” images for the two candidates.
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers recorded a significant increase in the percentage of “positive” photos of Romney as well as an increase in “positive” images of Obama as well. That was interesting — as was the decrease in “very negative” images for both candidates — interesting given the drop in the polls for Obama following the debate.
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, researchers recorded a significant increase in the percentage of “negative” photos for Romney.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
Throughout the February and March 2012 Republican primary campaign, CBSNews.com paid significantly more attention to frontrunner Mitt Romney in its coverage than to the other top three candidates. Researchers who daily checked the site pinned a total of 229 photos: 101 photos of Mitt Romney, 82 photographs of Rick Santorum, 38 of Newt Gingrich and 8 of Ron Paul.
The skew of these numbers does, however, partially reflect the polling data across the month-long period. But it is noteworthy, in addition, that coders evaluated CBS’s images of Mitt Romney as more positive than those of all three of his competitors. Coders evaluated photos of Santorum and Gingrich as either slightly positive or neutral throughout the month-long study, while Paul appeared in images that at best were coded as neutral in tone.
Note, as mentioned below, no video, photo gallery images, or multimedia pieces were recognized by the Pinterest pinning tool. Therefore, as is true for all the news outlets surveyed, the total number of images from CBS News pinned to Pinterest should be understood to be representative of those published, not an absolute set of all photographs that could be seen on the site.
Clicking on the number of pins in the subheads below links to the Pinterest board of photos of the candidate.
ROMNEY / 101 Pins *
POSITIVE: CBS News not only published many photos of Mitt Romney, it published very positive photos of him — often times showing him mingling with friendly crowds of supporters or in the midst of a speech where he appeared smiling, confident and engaged.
- CBS published frequent close up photos of Romney as well as of Santorum — the photos for both men were “all about them” — in other words, the focus of the images were almost entirely on the candidates’ faces. Coders evaluated the photos for both men overall positively, but documented that the photos of Romney appear more positive than they did those of Santorum, e.g. more photos of Romney showed him smiling. Researchers looking at the photos pinned from CBS News coded very few photos of Romney as portraying him in a negative light.
- As was true with a number of other outlets, numerous photos of Romney prominently showed the American flag in the background (a consequence, of course, of the candidate’s advance team work), yet the choice to select a photo with a prominently visible flag, coders noted, subconsciously triggered associations of Romney with patriotism. Interestingly a close-up of Romney backed by an American flag (see here), was used repeatedly by CBS News over several days. Researchers, for example, pinned the same photo from 5 different stories.
- Over the course of the month, researchers looking at CBS News pinned 11 split-screen images of Romney and Santorum (twice with an identical split screen) — a photographic technique that reinforced that these men were the two leaders. An additional photo in March pictured Romney in a split screen with President Obama.
SANTORUM / 82 Pins *
POSITIVE: CBS News’ photographic coverage of Rick Santorum, like its coverage of Romney, emphasized close-up images of his expressions while speaking. But while the close-ups of Romney showed him almost inevitably smiling or at least appearing upbeat during his speeches, photos of Santorum, especially later in the month, showed him often frowning or grimacing or otherwise appearing worried, frustrated or depressed.
- Overall, researchers evaluated the images of Santorum as slightly positive in tone. Early on he appeared more confident in the images, yet especially later in the month-long period, CBS’s photos pictured him as more distant from supporters, or even stiff or arrogant.
- A major focus of Rick Santorum’s campaign was the emphasis on family, as noted in his campaign named the “Faith Family & Freedom Tour.” But images used by CBS News mostly pictured the candidate alone, with only a handful showing him with with his wife or other family members. Coders did not code even those family photos, however, as always positive in tone — at times in the images, both the candidate and his family appeared to be worried, frustrated or depressed (as in the photo above).
- Santorum appeared in many split-screen shots with Romney, but he appeared in an additional four split-screen photos with Newt Gingrich — photographically reinforcing the notion that Romney had taken the leadership position, while Santorum and Gingrich battled it out for second place.
GINGRICH / 38 Pins *
POSITIVE: CBS News’ photographic coverage of Newt Gingrich, like its coverage of Rick Santorum, often showed Gingrich in close-up or from a medium distance (waist up), typically speaking from a platform, or during a rather scripted moment shortly before or after a speech (e.g. waving to the crowd).
- Like the photos published of Rick Santorum, CBS News‘ published photos of Gringrich grew less positive from late February to late March. As Romney’s candidacy appeared more and more inevitable, the numbers of photographs of the other candidates, including Gingrich, decreased and the portrayal of the remaining candidates became less positive.
PAUL / 8 Pins *
NEUTRAL: Depending on how one counts, CBS News either published eight images of Ron Paul or only seven — as one of the eight appeared for two separate article.
- In six of the pinned photos of Ron Paul, Paul is depicted with one of his hands outstretched, as if imploring the audience. In yet another image (see the photo above) he is shrugging. Coders considered neither gesture to be “presidential.”
During the 2012 primary election season, CBS News ran extensive coverage, adding multimedia elements, both photos and video, to the content of its top news stories. A specific page for “Politics,” with articles, videos and photo galleries, served as the main section for its primary election coverage. Most of the candidate photographs used by CBS News were originally taken by Associated Press or Getty Images photographers. Although a wide variety of photographs appeared on the site in February and March 2012, CBS News reran many photos multiple times for different stories. One photograph, for example, was used for five different articles within two days.
PINTEREST: Although most stories that came up within the search on CBS News‘ website included thumbnail images in the teaser, these small images could not be pinned using Pinterest. CBS News only allowed visitors to “pin” photographs located on the main page of an article. As a result, researchers could not represent all the components of the full visual experience of a visitor to CBS News via Pinterest: no videos, photo gallery images, or multimedia pieces were recognized by the Pinterest pinning tool. Therefore the images studied here are a subset of all the visual images of the candidate originally viewable on the site. This, however, was true for most news outlets, especially those with significant video, such as the network and cable news outlets.
CONTEXT: CBS News is the news and information division of the American television and radio network, CBS Corporation. CBS News provides national and international news, feature pieces, investigative reporting, and analysis and breaking news 24 hours a day, seven days a week. CBS News is one of the nation’s largest news platforms, with a strong national presence.