Thursday, October 20, 2011

Perception vs. Reality: So-Called "Liberal" Media Criticizes Obama the Most

*Hat tip to Jack & Jill Politics for inspiring this post*

A strange thing happens once you hear something repeated over and over and over again: it becomes reality whether it's true or not.  We see evidence of this phenomenon all the time.  How many times in your junior high or high school days did you witness a rumor which was completely false turn into unquestionable reality that was beyond contestation?  Sometimes we're able to expose the falsity of certain propositions, but most of the time these things go unchallenged.  Speaking of unchallenged propositions, one of the most popular "facts" often repeated by conservatives is that the main stream media has a liberal bias that favors progressives and Democrats while demonizing conservatives and Republicans.  This "fact" has remained in the ether for quite some time largely because nobody can quantitatively say one way or the other whether or not it is true...until today that is.

The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism has recently published an objective report about the 2012 Presidential candidates using actual data (in other words, "facts") which conclusively shows that not only does the media report more positively about the Republican candidates, it also reports more negatively about the Democratic candidate, President Obama:

So if you've ever wondered why it always seems like there's some kind of negative vibe out there about President Obama, now you know that, as a matter of fact, Obama has only received 9% positive coverage by the media between May and October of this year.  Meanwhile, the media has flocked to the shiny new Republican candidates with considerably more positive coverage than negative coverage for most of them.  The report also had the following findings:

  • One question is whether media coverage is a leading indicator that may drive public opinion or is a lagging indicator that follows poll numbers (a description of improving standing in the horse race would be considered positive in the study). The data suggest that the relationship between a candidate’s poll numbers and the tone of his or her coverage, varied widely. Bachmann’s poll numbers, for instance, jumped well before the tone of her coverage improved. The coverage for Cain, in contrast, turned more positive in August, weeks ahead of his rise in the polls. In the case of Romney, his move up in the polls in early June was not accompanied by any particular change in the tone of his media narrative.  

  • One factor in the broader media narrative is which candidates are vetted by reporters, beyond their public comments each day. While the quantitative aspect of this report cannot answer that, changes in tone and a more subjective look at coverage during those moments of shift offer some hint. The news media appeared to launch an examination of the records and resume of some candidates—notably Michele Bachmann and Rick Perry—after their rise in the polls, while largely sparing other candidates, such as Ron Paul and, so far, Herman Cain.

  • Debates, now growing in number, are having an impact on the media narrative, perhaps because the candidates find themselves in less scripted encounters during these events. The study finds that debates have coincided with some notable shifts in tone of coverage. The June 13 CNN debate, for instance, produced some good reviews and a boost in status for Michele Bachmann while furthering doubts about Tim Pawlenty. And some difficult debate performances, most notably on September 22, have injected some critical coverage into what had been very favorable media treatment of Rick Perry.

  • There have been four distinct phases to this early media primary. The first one, which generated the first significant amount of campaign coverage, was the Donald Trump phase that began in late April. That was followed by the candidate announcement cycle (mid-May through June) and then the debt doldrums period from early July through the beginning of August, when campaign coverage was completely overshadowed by the debt drama in Washington D.C. The next phase began in mid-August, when Rick Perry entered the race and instantly changed its dynamic.

  • Finally, given the breadth of content across the blogosphere, it is impossible to know quantitatively how many of those opinions evaluating a GOP candidate negatively are coming from blogs that tilt liberal and Democratic and those evaluating them positively are coming from conservative and Republican blogs. Given the nature of the blogosphere, conservative primary voters may not read commentary on liberal blogs, and vice versa. Clearly some of the comments critical of candidates, however, are coming from within their own parties. Moreover, some of it is from bloggers evaluating the contenders by the same criteria as the news media—based on their chances for winning.  

What do you make of this data?
If you previously believed that the media has a liberal bias, do you maintain that belief?
Is there a concerted effort by the media to report positively on anything opposing Obama (Tea Party, GOP, etc.)?
Does negative media reporting affect the minds of voters?
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