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Sunday, October 26, 2008

More on media bias: John McCain covered in a "substantially negative" way

The Russians say U.S. news media coverage is biased in favour of Obama. A U.S.-based analysis, performed by Pew Research Center's Excellence in Journalism, substantiates the Russian assessment. U.S. news media appears to cover John McCain much more negatively than Obama, and rarely covers him in a positive light, is the finding released on October 22:

The media coverage of the race for president has not so much cast Barack Obama in a favorable light as it has portrayed John McCain in a substantially negative one, according to a new study of the media since the two national political conventions ended. Press treatment of Obama has been somewhat more positive than negative, but not markedly so.

But coverage of McCain has been heavily unfavorable—and has become more so over time. In the six weeks following the conventions through the final debate, unfavorable stories about McCain outweighed favorable ones by a factor of more than three to one—the most unfavorable of all four candidates—according to the study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism.

For Obama during this period, just over a third of the stories were clearly positive in tone (36%), while a similar number (35%) were neutral or mixed. A smaller number (29%) were negative.

For McCain, by comparison, nearly six in ten of the stories studied were decidedly negative in nature (57%), while fewer than two in ten (14%) were positive

The findings, however, are not as clear as we might at first believe. Once upon a time, the media was the agenda-setter. If the media said so-and-so was a bad sort, public opinion would shift in response to this analysis. However, with instantaneous polling, there's reason to suspect that, instead of setting the agenda and being an opinion-generator, the media appears, instead, to respond to the polls, and analyze in response to polls.

That means we have either a chicken-and-the-egg problem (where we don't know whether the media helps inform opinion, or responds to polls and conforms with them); or, as the Pew Center suggests, a reinforcement problem:

What the findings also reveal is the reinforcing—rather than press-generated—effects of media. We see a repeating pattern here in which the press first offers a stenographic account of candidate rhetoric and behavior, while also on the watch for misstatements and gaffes. Then, in a secondary reaction, it measures the political impact of what it has reported. This is magnified in particular during presidential races by the prevalence of polling and especially daily tracking. While this echo effect exists in all press coverage, it is far more intense in presidential elections, with the explosion of daily tracking polls, state polls, poll aggregation sites and the 24-hour cable debate over their implications. Even coverage of the candidate's policy positions and rhetoric, our reading of these stories suggest, was tied to horse race and took on its cast.

Here are some interesting charts of the general tone of campaign coverage:


Cutting it up by candidate, here is the general tone of McCain, Obama, and Sarah Palin coverage:




Posted by P.M. Jaworski on October 26, 2008 in Media, U.S. politics | Permalink


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I have two comments:

I do NOT recall this sort of outcry in the media concerning a conservative bias in the build up to the war in Iraq and the 2004 Presidential elections. This outcry seems to be an act of the conservative media following their generation long campaign of smearing the media to create the false impression of bias and therefore decrease news sources' legitimacy.

This report does not at all address the total story as to why McCain has had such negative press generated about his campaign. The article implies that McCain did NOTHING to deserve negative attention, when in fact he has blundered horribly. The news media MUST call out ALL public officials when mistakes are made. The media is DOING IT'S JOB by writing negative articles about McCain. I would expect them to slam Obama if he nominated Palin in such a controversial manner, or announced he would not debate his opponent, but Obama has simply not made any mistakes. We cannot operate under the assumption that public figures can do no wrong, and they should only be called out to a small degree. Conservatives like to say that all is gray. It's just not true. We don't want another Iraq war.

Sorry but this is the light you need to look at this topic under.

Posted by: K | 2008-10-26 8:07:49 PM

An interesting followup would be to break down the coverage before and after the selection of Palin as his running mate. Up until that point, McCain seemed a strong second choice to me, but I'd be willing to guess that that selection would mark a turning point in McCain's relationship with the media.

Palin is uniquely unqualified for the role she is has been asked to fill, especially given McCain's age and overall health. The horrific possibility of a Palin Presidency is not something the media should treat neutrally.

Posted by: Voice of Reason | 2008-10-26 9:25:12 PM

Granted - Palin doesn't have a wealth of qualifying experience, either in politics or in the workaday world but, neither does Obama. In fact, if I were in HR and considering the two for a senior executive position in a medium cap company, I'd be shuffling through my in basket, looking for more applications. If push came to shove, I'd have to choose Palin.

Remember, notwithstanding that McCain could topple at any time, Palin is applying for the second tier job whereas the lesser candidate, Obama, wants to be President, right off of the top.

Posted by: Zog | 2008-10-27 12:19:27 AM

Seems odd that we are mesmerized by the "Two" choices. One is a straight up communist and the other is a Bush clone. Why isn't anyone looking for someone that can actually do the job of representing "free peoples"? Because neither of these guys do. Obama will redistribute your wealth, and McCain will make you proud to have your grandson come home in a box. These choices are *not* choices that sane people should entertain.

Posted by: JC | 2008-10-27 6:34:51 AM

Give me your vote!!! I will rule malevolently! Your children will be re-distributed equally.

Posted by: OBAMA | 2008-10-27 10:50:28 AM


Why do you spell your name in all capital letters? That seems a bit pretentious.

Do you spell your first name that way, too?

Inquiring minds want to know!


Posted by: Terrence Watson | 2008-10-27 11:10:09 AM


Can anyone explain in lucid terms the overwhelming bias that this election has created across almost the whole of the Fourth Estate? It's hard to understand. I understand the intense dislike of Bush’s rush into Iraq, and the backlash, but he’s not responsible of the current financial calamity the country is now burdened with. Clinton would be a more appropriate culprit, among others.

It seems that all objectivity has evaporated from our news channels. Is this the beginning of a serious disintegration of democracy? I understand Putin's control over Russian media,.. he shoots or poisons those who disagree with him, but what we are witnessing happening here with the news media is dangerous. Even Obama supporters should worry.

Please let me know at http://pacificgatepost.blogspot.com/

... I'd enjoy hearing from you. Can we make sense of this?


Posted by: PacificGatePost | 2008-10-27 4:17:03 PM

Hey, Mr. Watson, you asked him about his first name. That's unacceptably close to asking about his middle name. Watch your step, eh?

Posted by: ebt | 2008-10-28 1:25:19 PM

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