Monday, June 27, 2011

News with a Partisan Slant?

I wrote a couple of days ago about a new Public Opinion Quarterly study that finds people who consume "likeminded news" (news that agrees with their partisan point of view) actually increases certain aspects of political participation.  In that piece I promised to review the study author's categorization scheme for which television news programs qualified as being slanted toward Republicans, Democrats, or neutral.  Here's my take.

First, let's recreate the list from the study's appendix (Table A1, p. 312, if you have access to POQ).  Remember these are 2008 programs, so some have disappeared.  I comment after each category, only briefly, then I'll get into details after the list on how the author assigned programs or networks to the categories.

Programs with a Republican Slant

The Beltway Boys
Fox & Friends
Fox News
The Fox Report with Shepard Smith
Geraldo at Large
etc etc., all of them Fox News programs...

Okay, I stopped here listing them because they're all Fox News shows, and I think most of us might agree with the slant (except Studio B with Shepard Smith, which to me is one of the more "straight" presentations on Fox.  So I quibble with that one).

Programs with a Democratic Slant

ABC Nightline
Anderson Cooper 360
BET News
CNN Headline News
The Colbert Report (really, it's in there)
Countdown with Keith Olbermann
The Daily Show (really)
Good Morning America
Hardball with Chris Matthews
Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer
Out in the Open
Situation Room
The View
This Week with George Stephanopoulous

As you can tell, a bunch of major networks and their shows.  Again I have quibbles, especially with Situation Room, which strikes me as a journalism guy with some small experience as fairly straightforward in its presentation. And it's amusing to see Steward and Colbert in there as news programs, but I think we can all buy into that as well.

And finally, Neutral Programs

ABC World News
CBS Evening News
America This Morning
CBS Morning News
etc etc. all three major networks and morning shows
Larry King Live
Lou Dobbs
60 Minutes
McLaughlin Group
Reliable Sources
Meet the Press

Okay, we can quibble with the list above too.  Lou Dobbs?  Neutral?  McLaughlin Group?  All in all, the list above seems mostly right to me, but of course your first methodological question should be -- how the heck do you systematically decide what program or network goes in which category?  Good question.  The explanation, also found in the article's appendix, is complicated.  Let's walk through it.
  • What candidate does a program favor?  This was a follow-up question to respondents who reported certain media exposure.
  • Mix and Match.  "I took into account respondents' perceptions of partisan slant for both the program and its parent network," says the author, trying to assign a category to unmentioned programs or to further justify the categorization.
  • A statistical threshold of 25 percent was used to make sure the categories were firm.  More on this in the appendix.
  • A Lexis-Nexis search was used for rarely mentioned programs, using various terms like liberal or Republican to assign a slant to a program or its host.
This is some creative work, and I've only skimmed above the detailed effort to assign programs to what any reasonable, informed person might (or might not) agree with.  But it's important some systematic approach be used, not just gut feeling, when doing this kind of work. So I applaud the effort while quibbling with a few of the assignments.  After all, in large part we're talking above about general respondent impressions of a news organization or program and their slant, not the reality of its journalistic approach.  Given the constraints, this is an excellent stab at categorizing programs and networks.

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