Jesse Jackson received more favorable TV coverage than any other Democratic presidential candidate in part because of his race, in part because of a "brilliant" campaign but the bubble "burst" in New York, a media researcher said Thursday.
To assess claims Jackson was being relegated to the "back of the bus" or being given a "free ride," S. Robert Lichter of the American Enterprise Institute examined more than 700 television clips from the campaign trail."Jackson has consistently gotten far better coverage than any of the other Democratic candidates, but he earned it," Lichter said at a news conference.
During the Iowa and New Hampshire races, Jackson received positive coverage 90 percent of the time, compared with the 50 percent record of other candidates, Lichter said. But by Tuesday's New York primary, only 60 percent of the Jackson pieces on the three major networks were positive.
"Jackson did better than expected in both Iowa and New Hampshire," Lichter said. "That gave him the first surge of attention. Then he consolidated that with a big Super Tuesday and the bubble rose."
"But, as all such bubbles must do, they burst at the point that a candidate moves up to challenge the rest of the field."
But Jackson spokesman Tom Schade said he felt the civil rights leader received critical coverage from the outset of the campaign, saying: "We've been under scrutiny all along.
"You had continuous repetition of the theme that he can't win. Every article about him stated that he couldn't win. That wasn't said about candidates that were long shots," Schade said.
Jackson's favorable coverage eroded in New York, where many evening news spots featured Mayor Ed Koch denouncing Jackson or Jewish residents decrying the candidate for what they perceived as his anti-Semitism, Lichter said.
To support his claim, Lichter pointed to figures that show 86 percent of the TV coverage Jackson received in the Midwest contained favorable comments about his electability. But by New York, his "horse race" factor had dropped to 52 percent.
"In this campaign, Jesse Jackson has been poetry and the other candidates have been prose. But American politics runs more on prose than on poetry," Lichter said.
"I think Jesse Jackson has found the politics of poetry is also the politics of polarization in America. You pay the price in New York."
Lichter credited Jackson for much of the positive coverage he received prior to New York, saying he had run a "brilliant" campaign and had mastered the art of the soundbite a short pithy quote better than any other candidate.
But Jackson also received better coverage than the other candidates because of his race and the fear among journalists that a critical depiction of him would be perceived as racist.
"Jackson's coverage has something to do with race, just because his campaign has something to do with race," Lichter said.
"Nobody wants to be called a racist. Being called a racist today in America is like being called a communist 30 years ago. Even if it doesn't burn you it leaves you singed."