Topic: Media Research Center
A Oct. 17 survey by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism found that in September, negative assessments of President Obama in the media "outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1." That finding runs counter ro the right-wing meme that the "liberal media" is in the tank for Obama. So the top right-wing media watchdogs have tried to discredit it.
The Media Research Center's Rich Noyes devoted a lengthy article to countering Pew's claims, asserting there are "three major problems":
First, they didn’t study what most people would consider “the media.” Second, their definition of “positive” and “negative” press doesn’t match what media experts consider “favorable” or “unfavorable” coverage.
And, third, the researchers didn’t really even look at the stories — they let a computer (using an algorithm dubbed “Crimson Hexagon”) churn through the words and determine whether an assertion was pro- or anti-Obama (or Perry, or Romney, etc.).
Noyes complains that the Pew survey, which examined "coverage and commentary on more than 11,500 news outlets. This is a bad thing, apparently:
So for a study to include 11,500 news outlets (English-language only, the report says), the researchers have cast their net so widely that their study necessarily includes a huge number of insignificant or derivative news outlets — hundreds of iterations of the same AP story on the Web sites of local TV stations, for example. Such a study design makes it impossible to discover how the candidates were covered by the relatively small number of news media outlets that reach hundreds of thousands or millions of people each day.
[Pew also separately looked at “hundreds of thousands” of blogs, which again means that the few dozen top-ranked influential blogs are buried in a mass of data that includes vast numbers of low-trafficked and irrelevant sites.]
To study the news media’s effect on the campaign, researchers need to isolate the news media sources that are having the most profound effect — either at reaching the most viewers (like the big networks) or most influential at establishing a national narrative (like the New York Times or Politico). Throwing thousands of sources into one big pot — some with audiences in the millions, others reaching only a few hundred a day — just confuses the role that journalists actually have in setting the agenda and crafting a candidate’s image.
Of course, this runs counter to the MRC's "research" methods, which focus almost exclusively on the three major broadcast networks and deliberately precludes any examination of Fox News, even though it's the highest-rated cable news network. But then, the MRC doesn't really care about research; it cares only about advancing a political agenda.
Noyes then complains about Pew's methodology of identifying stories as "“positive,” “negative,” or “neutral” because they include "horse race" assessments:
Careful researchers would avoid blurring such “horse race” statements into an overall measure of good press/bad press. Back in August, both Rick Perry’s strongest supporters and his staunchest foes would agree that he was on top of the GOP preference polls — it’s not “the media” pushing a biased editorial line to say so. Standard measures of “good” and “bad” press include: assessments of a candidate’s personal integrity, ethics and job competence; evaluations of their policy proposals; and their capabilities as a candidate — in other words, those attributes that can make someone more or less likely to support their candidacy.
Including “horse race” assessments undoubtedly skewed the numbers in favor of Perry (who led most surveys until late September) and hurt President Obama, whose job approval ratings were on the decline. Plus, tallying overt “assertions” would also minimize the effect of daily news coverage (where the bias is usually more subtle), while boosting the effect of editorials and commentary with obvious opinions.
Our own work this campaign season shows that the national media consistently framed the debt story in a way that played to Obama’s agenda, and hit Republican candidates with mainly hostile questions premised on liberal policy assumptions. In an election context, those are big favors to the Democrats that cannot be tallied on a simple “positive” or “negative” scorecard.
Again, the MRC's "research" pales in comparison to Pew's. As we've noted, the MRC's attempt to judge questions at Republican presidential debates as "conservative" or "liberal" included no definition of what those words meant in terms of methodology, no complete list of the questions and how they were categorized, and deliberately excluded questions atdebates sponsored by Fox News.
Finally, Noyes complains that Pew used a computer algorithm because "it’s impossible that human researchers could cross-check even a tiny fraction of the coverage. Nearly all of the “anti-Obama” or “pro-Perry” stories were never reviewed by an actual researcher to check the context and meaning of the keywords the computer was trained to spot."
But mostly, Noyes is angry that Pew is trying to detroy the MRC's reason for existence:
The point of studying the media for potential bias is to make sure that journalists are not skewing the news before it reaches voters, so that the real decisions are in the hands of the people, not the media elites. For liberal journalists to hear that their profession is somehow skewed against President Obama can only encourage them to attempt to tilt the scales in the other direction. That’s a step away from the fair and balanced journalism that we need.
Actually, the MRC cares nothing about "fair and balanced journalism"; if it did, CNSNews.com wouldn't have such a pronounced right-wing bias. Its real goal is to try and discredit the media and create openings for organizations that will uncritically promote a right-wing agenda, like Fox News.
Accuracy in Media didn't like Pew's survey either. In an Oct. 18 blog post, AIM chief Don Irvine rehashed the same objections Noyes did -- too many media outlets examined, faulty computer algorithm. Irvine concluded:
If Pew was really looking for an accurate study of how the media have covered the presidential candidates then they should have used a more focused group of the top newspapers based on circulation, news sites based on web visitors and the broadcast and cable networks, which combined are far more representative of the mainstream media than the extremely broad definition they used. But that probably would have given them far different results and defeated their intended goal of making it look like the media have been far more favorable to Republicans – even to the point of being anti-Obama — which would only serve to help the President explain his low poll numbers and other struggles as he seeks reelection.
Nice try Pew, but this report smells of liberal bias.
Of course. If Irvine doesn't agree, it must be liberal bias, right?