Monday, September 29, 2008

Media Bias and Presidential Campaigns

We all know the old mantra: the media is biased. First off, that's grammatically incorrect. The media are biased. Plural.

And yes, they are, but not in the way most people think.

But I'm not going there today. Instead I just read a research paper on whether the 2004 presidential election coverage was biased. The answer? Surprising. The authors, all four of them, looked at bias within stories and within segments. So you may have a single story that is biased (partisan), but if it's balanced by another piece just after, it comes out kinda even (structural). A good idea, one reflective of the way TV does "journalism" (and I'm being kind here).

The findings from the July-September 2008 Mass Communication & Society piece (Volume 11, #3):

  • There is often a bias toward a challenger. That's the nature of politics, of journalism, and they found this in 2004 as well. We've seen a challenger bias in other studies. Change = news.
  • The broadcast networks had more even partisan and structural balance than the cable news networks. The explanation? Broadcast networks like ABC, et al., have a less-interested news audience so they have to broaden their partisan perspective. Not sure Bill O'Reilly would buy this, but it makes sense.
  • CBS and Fox showed the greatest "partisan tilt" in the study -- both for Kerry. Wow! Fox for Kerry? Odd, weird, counter intuitive. And cool. I honestly can't explain this one but the methodology seems sound.
  • Broadcast networks spent less time on Swiftboat and National Guard stories than did the cable networks. You could argue this was partisan in nature, but I suspect it has more to do with bullet #1 above. Different audience, less consisting of news/partisan junkies.

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