Howard Dean (search) received significantly more criticism on network newscasts than the other Democratic presidential contenders, who were the subjects of more favorable coverage, according to a study released Thursday.

More than three-quarters of the coverage of Dean's foes by the nightly news programs was favorable, while a majority of attention to Dean was negative, the Center for Media and Public Affairs (search) found.

The study by the Washington-based media watchdog also found that network attention to the campaign was down by 62 percent compared to the last race involving an incumbent president, in 1996.

Researchers examined 187 stories broadcast on the ABC, CBS or NBC evening newscasts in 2003, looking at elements including quoted remarks about candidates and how they were depicted in profiles.

The study found that 49 percent of the coverage of former Vermont Gov. Dean was positive, compared to 78 percent of the rest of the Democratic field, collectively.

Dean's coverage rose to 59 percent positive in December after former Vice President Al Gore (search) endorsed him, the study found.

The networks were generally less attentive to the election preseason than in the past, researchers found.

They devoted five hours and 20 minutes to coverage in 2003, which is a 32 percent drop from the seven hours, 49 minutes for the 2000 campaign, in which both party's nominations were contested.

In the 1996 race involving incumbent President Clinton, the networks spent slightly more than 14 hours on the campaign, according to the study.