HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GENERAL ELECTION
This page provides a summary of research results for Fox News’s photographic coverage of the 2012 presidential election and the GOP primaries.
FOX NEWS PHOTOS of PRES. BARACK OBAMA*
Fox News coverage emphasized the Obama-Romney debate performances. While photos of the candidates by themselves appeared in September, by October, debate photos or split-screen images taken from the stump speeches dominated Fox stories.
FOX NEWS PHOTOS of GOV. MITT ROMNEY*
While in September researchers coded more “negative” photos of Romney than Obama in Fox’s coverage, the photos from the weeks of the first two debates tended to slightly favor Romney.
These six images of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney are a sampling of photos published by Fox News during the three weeks of the PrezPix study. Clicking a photo links to the Pinterest board of that photo.
- Researchers pinned a total of 293 photos from Fox News over the three weeks of the general election — 150 photos of Pres. Obama and 143 photos of Gov. Romney.
- Researchers noted that the number of photographs of Obama and Romney almost exactly tracked each other across all three weeks, with attention to both Obama and Romney peaking during the week of the first debate.
- This study did not formally evaluate either photo captions or headlines. Yet during the research “pinning” phase, headlines and photo captions, when available to select, were copied onto Pinterest’s pinboards. During the general election season, researchers noted in passing that Fox’s headlines, copy and at times captions tended to be quite partisan in tone, in favor of Gov. Romney’s candidacy, even when the photographs selected had been coded as rather “neutral.” Other news outlets did the reverse — NBC, for example, published very positive images of President Obama, but its headlines, copy and captions tended to be more neutral.
- The FoxNews.com website integrated relatively well with Pinterest. Researchers noted that a large percentage of the stories and photos of the candidates came from Fox’s “Politics” page; other images were from the home page and the “Opinions” section. Thumbnail images on the “Politics” homepage, for example, opened up to large photos at the top of the related story, directly under the headline, on that article’s dedicated page; both the thumbnails and the stand-alone photos were pinnable. Thumbnails of Fox videos were also pinnable — but oddly not if they were from the search page.
POSITIVE / NEGATIVE TONE of PHOTOS
These six pie charts show the percentage of positive — neutral — negative photos of Barack Obama and Mitt Romney from Fox News coded by researchers during the three weeks of the PrezPix study.
- Sept. 17-23 — Two weeks prior to the first debate, researchers coded significantly more Fox News photographs of Romney as “negative” — some “very negative” — than they coded for Obama. Researchers did, however, code roughly equal numbers of photographs of Obama and Romney as “positive.”
- Oct. 1-7 — In the week of the first debate, researchers recorded more “positive” and “very positive” images of both Obama and Romney, giving a slight overall edge to Romney. The relative balance of the photographs, researchers noted, was in large measure due to the considerable number of photographs that were split-screen images with both candidates, where an effort was made to select roughly equivalent photos of each man.
- Oct. 15-21 — The week of the second debate, researchers coded more “neutral” photographs of both candidates than “positive” ones. Romney’s photographs still remained slightly more positive than Obama’s, but the most significant difference from the week before was the drop in numbers of photos published for both men.
HIGHLIGHTS of COVERAGE of the GOP PRIMARIES
Throughout February and March 2012, FoxNews.com, the website for Fox News Channel, daily covered the GOP race with multiple videos and feature stories. There was a rough relationship between the number of photos of each candidate and that candidate’s standing in opinion polls. Researchers “pinned” to Pinterest a total of 134 photos : 64 photos of Mitt Romney, 51 photographs of Rick Santorum, 17 of Newt Gingrich and two photos of Ron Paul.
More than any of the other outlets studied, Fox News illustrated stories with split-screen photos showing two, three and on two occasions all four candidates. While that photographic choice placed the candidates — in terms of column inches — on an equal footing, coders noted a discrepancy in the tone of those images. Romney typically had the most positive expression (often a smile or speaking with a decisive gesture), Santorum the next most positive (often he was captured in mid-speech, but with a somewhat contorted expression), Gingrich was pictured equally or less positively than Santorum, and Paul was depicted the most negatively.
Note, as mentioned below, stand-alone videos could not be pinned to Pinterest, although screen grabs of videos that appeared with articles could be pinned. As is true for all the news outlets surveyed, the total number of images from Fox News pinned to Pinterest, therefore, should be understood to be representative of those published, not an absolute set of all photographs on the site.
Clicking on the number of pins in the subheads below links to the Pinterest board of photos of the candidate.
ROMNEY / 64 PINS *
POSITIVE: Overall, researchers coded the majority of photos of Mitt Romney on Fox as positive. Coders noted that a slim majority of photos that were pinned showed Romney alone, in a relative close up, often in what appeared to be a screen grab from an on-air interview, where he was looking directly into the camera. Other photos showed Romney literally reaching out past the frame of the photo to crowds of supporters; other photos showed him animatedly gesturing while speaking. Fox News’ photos featuring Romney alone typically showed him smiling and engaged, negating most negative connotations associated with an image of a candidate alone.
- Like his nearest competitor Rick Santorum, Romney appeared smiling in most of Fox’s photos, but coders noted that on a whole Romney appeared less broadly smiling than Santorum, althogh at times the smiling photos of Santorum made him appear rather boyish — perhaps an endearing look, but not an entirely “presidential” one.
SANTORUM / 51 PINS *
POSITIVE: Fox News pictured Rick Santorum very positively; the vast majority of photos depicted Santorum as confident, charismatic and friendly, even charming.
Whether alone or with his wife (left), his family, or most frequently with supporters, Santorum appeared smiling and engaged in Fox News‘ photos.
- Fox News featured Santorum addressing an audience in most of the photos, although Santorum is cropped sufficiently closely in many of those photos that he appears to be alone. Yet Santorum’s expression in many of those photos is so positive that coders noted no negative connotations to the lack of visible supporters (see photo right).
- The least positive photos of Santorum appeared early in the month-long period of the study. In the split-screen images that appeared in late February and early March, Santorum is pictured less positively than Romney; coders evaluated Santorum’s body language (gaze, expression, gestures) as less confident and more tentative than that of Mitt Romney’s.
GINGRICH /17 PINS *
POSITIVE: Fox News usually pictured Newt Gingrich in a positive light — Gingrich appeared confident in many images — but the news outlet posted considerably fewer photos of Gingrich compared to the two frontrunners.
- Roughly a third of the photographs in which Gingrich appeared showed him in a split-screen photo with other candidates — a higher proportion of “shared” split-screen images than for Romney or Santorum. In those group photos (as with the one above left), Gingrich is pictured less positively than front-runner Romney.
- Researchers also noted that with the exception of two images, Fox News featured Gingrich alone. Callista Gingrich, Gingrich’s wife, is partly visible in those two other photos. The lack of supporters in any of the images coupled with the entirely formal pose of all the images of Gingrich, prompted researchers to note that Gingrich appears more isolated as a candidate than either Santorum or Romney.
PAUL /2 PINS *
NEGATIVE: Researchers found only two instances in which Fox News pictured Paul — in both cases Paul appeared in a split-screen photo with the other three top candidates. In both group photos (as with the one above left), Paul is pictured less positively than the other candidates.
- Coders noted that the photos selected of Paul captured him looking looking defeated rather than aggressive as the other candidates — coders noted that his expressions did not appear “presidential.”
Fox News Channel
2012 Primary Election Coverage
Fox News provided thorough coverage of the 2012 presidential election. Throughout the months of the PrezPixstudy, Fox News Channel daily featured videos, stories and blogs about the candidates on its home page, but it shifted most of the election coverage to its Politics page. Election stories of the day could be accessed on that main Politics page, together with a special 2012 Elections box that linked to separate pages for each candidate.
PINTEREST: Fox News Channel‘s website interfaced fairly seamlessly with Pinterest, but while the website allowed researchers to pin still photos and clickable screen grabs of videos that accompanied full-fledged articles, most stand-alone videos could not be pinned, nor could many of the site’s thumbnail photos on those same pages.
As a result, researchers could not represent all the components of the full visual experience of a visitor to Fox News via Pinterest. 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: FOX News Channel is a cable and satellite news channel owned by News Corporation, and broadcasting news primarily from its New York City studios. Australian media owner Rupert Murdoch launched the Fox News Channel on October 7, 1996, with Roger Ailes as its founding CEO. Previously Ailes worked as a Republican party political strategist, and he ran the cable networks CNBC and America’s Talking, the forerunner of MSNBC. The Fox network has risen to become the leading U.S. cable news network. Fox News Channel has a reputation of promoting conservative political positions, a charge the network contests. Its motto is “Fair & Balanced,” and the network denies any bias in its news reporting, maintaining that its political commentary operates independently of its reporting.