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Testing the Saturday Night Live Hypothesis: Fairness and Bias in Newspaper Coverage of Hillary Clinton's Presidential Campaign

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  25 May 2010

Melissa K. Miller
Bowling Green State University
Jeffrey S. Peake
Bowling Green State University
Brittany Anne Boulton
Bowling Green State University


Studies of press coverage afforded women running for public office indicate that historically, women tend to garner less coverage overall and that the coverage they do receive tends to focus disproportionately on their appearance, personality, and family status at the expense of their qualifications and issue positions. This study examines newspaper coverage of U.S. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton's campaign for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. Notably, Clinton did not allege that she was receiving too little coverage or coverage that focused disproportionately on her clothing or appearance. Rather, she charged that she was being treated negatively relative to her chief rival, U.S. Senator Barack Obama. More than 6,000 articles from 25 leading newspapers from across the country were content-coded from Labor Day through Super Tuesday in order to assess Clinton's coverage on two dimensions: traditional and tonal. On a range of traditional indicators of bias, such as coverage amount and mentions of candidate appearance, Clinton's coverage clearly broke established patterns typically afforded women presidential candidates. However, the tone of Clinton's coverage was decidedly negative relative to her male competitors. Normative implications of this mixed bag of fairness and bias are discussed.

Research Article
Copyright © The Women and Politics Research Section of the American Political Science Association 2010

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