Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Media and academic bias, or unofficial and unregulated agents of Democratic Party campaign spending?

Media bias largely unseen in US presidential race | Special Coverage | Reuters:
McCain partisans were roused to anger by a perception that mainstream news organizations routinely gave Obama preferential treatment en route to his election as the first black U.S. president.

But media scholars, including a former top aide to McCain, disagree. They said campaign coverage often did lean in Obama's favor, though not -- as many conservatives have suggested -- because of a hidden liberal agenda on the part of the media.

Instead, academic experts said, Obama benefited largely from the dynamics of the campaign itself and the media's tendency to focus on the "horse race," emphasizing ups and downs in the polls and political tactics.

As Obama's poll numbers rose in response to events, so did favorable press coverage for him, not the other way round.

"Winning begets winning coverage," said Mark Jurkowitz, an author of a study by the Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism that tracked campaign coverage.

Dan Schnur, communications director for McCain's 2000 presidential bid and now head of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at the University of Southern California, agreed.

"I don't think there's partisan or ideological bias because the mainstream media tries not to take sides in policy disagreements," he said. "Favorable news coverage is ... more a function of favorable poll numbers."


Some scholars acknowledge that Obama also generated good press by virtue of his charisma, and his place in history as the first black presidential candidate of a major political party.

"He was fresh-faced, his candidacy was historic and he had a campaign that seemed to transcend politics," said Robert Lichter, head of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University. "Reporters are suckers for candidates who don't seem like ordinary politicians."

But Kelly McBride, who teaches at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies, said journalists should not be labeled as star-struck for reporting on the "mania" surrounding Obama.

"When you have a very attractive candidate, and you have people swooning for him, the reporters then report on the fact that people are swooning," she said.
Yet as Richard Fernandez of Belmont Club notes:
The Zogby polling organization has been criticized for conducting a survey which indicates that an astounding level of ignorance among voters for the positions and factual circumstances of Barack Obama....The poll was conducted for John Ziegler, who is writing a book accusing the media of malpractice.
Belmont Club links to this video that claims to illustrate the ignorance of many Obama voters on matters that should have led to a negative perception of Obama, while these same voters know well the negative talking points on Sarah Palin:


Anonymous said...

Zounds! People are ignorant! Stop the freaking presses! Spend any amount of time with public opinion polling and you find out quickly that many people don’t pay much attention to politics. You could conduct the same type of ‘ignorance’ polling every election and get the same type of results.

The claim Zeigler appears to be forwarding is that the press is responsible for this ignorance. They are, word has it, liberal and present liberally slanted news. This makes people ignorant Obama lovers. My response: maybe. What evidence is there for this though? For shit sake, we just came off of 8 years of Republican executive rule. They controlled Congress since the early 1990s. So apparently the Liberal Media has gotten their act together in the last year or so.

The methodology Zeigler employs in his survey and video is fubar. First, what is the baseline for ignorance? Well, we wouldn’t know because only Dems are interviewed. We would have to assume that Fox-watching Republicans do a whole lot better on these questions because their news is not getting fudged by the dirty freaking commies running the MSM newsrooms. Of course, we are left to assume that because Zeigler doesn’t actually give a shit about investigating the effect of the media on public opinion, which we know because he didn’t bother collecting the data. Data might confuse an otherwise neat narrative. Second, what’s up with these questions? They should recognize that people do pay attention to and retain shallow shit. Partially because the media loves talking about shallow issues. That way they can avoid doing any investigative work and/or expressing a substantive opinion that runs the risk of alienating viewers. Pregnancies and SNL jokes make the rounds. Shallow stuff about Dems I expect people to remember: Which candidate was abandoned by his/her father? During the primaries, which contestant had a $400 haircut? Which primary contender recently cheated on his/her spouse? Which candidate has a crazy racist pastor? Start talking about policy and people tune out. Then, lo and behold, when they are told a piece of ‘factual’ information about policy they don’t like they attribute it to their least favourite candidate.

Bashing the media is fun and easy. We’re all smarter than the twits in the MSM, right? If they only called things straight-up my team would always win, right? This is generally the attitude of the very-informed and/or very ideologically committed. It doesn’t really matter if you’re left or right, as long as you hate the other team and devour politics than you more than likely hate the media. The great mass of people don’t give much thought to media performance. They glean the simple information they need (“Are things going well?” “Who do I trust?”) and vote accordingly. 2008 is no different. An inanimate carbon rod probably could have beaten John McCain because the Republicans fucked up so bad under Bush. For shit sake, the Republicans got beat by young black guy with the last name Hussein. It was a Democratic year. Over-thinking why Obama won (the media!) makes otherwise highly informed conservatives look stupid.


truepeers said...

I agree with you na that most people are rather ignorant about politics and that it was probably rather likely that just about any Democrat would beat just about any Republican, this time around.

However, I can't see how any informed person who watches the media in action can't see that it has a decidedly liberal outlook, with some exceptions. I don't think it's a conspiracy, merely a sociological fact. I know nothing about this Zeigler, however.

As for the absolute failures of Bush: one who takes this to be a simple truth perhaps needs to have his question of baselines and standards turned back on him. In a world where inherently unpredictable and unmanageable wars sometimes have to be fought, however unpopular war is, and naturally less-than-perfect people have to act with limited knowledge in inherently difficult situations where there is often only an apparent choice of lesser evils, what exactly are the standards by which Bush should be judged? I cannot take those who are so sure of his complete failure as the most lucid accountants of liberal-Utopian bias in the media; the assumption that Bush has been a historically unprecedented failure requires one to have fallen for Utopian scapegoating, it seems to me.

Anonymous said...

Asserting that it is a sociological fact that the media is liberal in outlook misses the point. I remained agnostic on the question of the media’s liberalness. Most members of the American media are registered Democrats. I’m not sure what the consequence of this has been. As people’s primary source of news has shifted to the tv the Republicans have done remarkably well politically. Ziegler is making an argument about relating bias to ignorance and voting behaviour. I remain unconvinced, mainly because he fails to present any solid evidence to back up his claims.

“In a world where inherently unpredictable and unmanageable wars sometimes have to be fought, however unpopular war is, and naturally less-than-perfect people have to act with limited knowledge in inherently difficult situations where there is often only an apparent choice of lesser evils, what exactly are the standards by which Bush should be judged?”


Yes, I know this can be a tough measure on which to judge a leader. Sometimes things are out of the control of the executive. This isn’t minor league t-ball though. You don’t get a trophy for showing up and trying your darndest. Leaders get credit for 7 years of plenty and blame for 7 years of famine. And sometimes they get blame for starting a war on a BS premise only to lose thousands of American lives trying to put humpty-dumpty back together again. And then there is his economic stewardship. And the Katrina response. Yes, I know, this is all grossly unfair. However, the vast majority of Americans actually share my Utopian views on accountability (check out Dubya’s soaring approval ratings…). These Utopian meanies decided to work through their frustration at the ballot box. Like I said before, don’t over think what happened.