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The Press and the Presidency: Friend or Foe? How the President is Portrayed

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In this activity, students examine the tone of news coverage about the president by various media outlets.

Two newspapers announce the results of the 2012 presidential election.

GRADE LEVEL: Middle and high school

TIME: 30-60 minutes

MATERIALS: Friend or Foe? worksheet (download); newspapers, magazines or Internet access

PREPARE: Print copies of the worksheet, one per student.


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Overview PDF DOC
Worksheets PDF DOC
Extensions PDF DOC
Full Packet PDF DOC

To request a large print or Braille version, call 202.292.6650.


  1. Discuss the difference between positive, negative and neutral coverage as a class.
    • Positive coverage highlights the positive things — the reasons why people should like the president and/or agree with the president’s message.
    • Negative coverage is critical or highlights the negative things — the reasons why people shouldn’t like the president and/or agree with the president’s message.
    • Neutral coverage neither supports nor detracts — simply presents information.
  1. Have students individually or in groups choose a current event/topic involving the president, such as a trip or speech, new policy/program/law, etc. Instruct them to find five stories from different sources on the selected topic. Think about using both traditional media outlets (such as a newspaper, magazines or a national nightly TV news show) and more cutting edge outlets (such as a blog or a satire news show).
  2. They should complete the tracking chart on the worksheet to compare how different media outlets reported the same story.
  3. Have students share their findings.
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  • Describe the overall tone of news coverage of the president. Was it generally positive, negative or neutral?
  • How did tone vary by news outlet? Did it vary by topic or was it across-the-board regardless of topic?
  • What elements of the news story did you use to determine its tone (headline, loaded words, photos, editorial cartoon, negative quotes, sarcasm, humor, etc.)?
  • What impact could positive, negative and neutral coverage have on a president or his/her administration?



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