A Bevy of Bogus MRC Media 'Studies'
The Media Research Center rushes to defend President Trump from the negative media coverage he has earned by presenting narrowly tailored, biased talking points presented as "media research."
By Terry Krepel
The Media Research Center has a lengthy history of putting together so-called "special reports" that are so narrowly tailored and so hypersensitive to anything that offends its right-wing, anti-media agenda that they show off the MRC's own bias rather than the "liberal media bias" that is the goal of doing those reports.
The advent of the Trump administration, though, has brought a raft of media "studies" from the MRC that are as flawed as its earlier work and are of use only to right-wing partisans and not objective media researchers. Let's review some of these studies, shall we?
'Negative' coverage of Trump
A March 2 post by Rich Noyes and Mike Ciandella describes the Media Research Center's latest so-called media research:
A new American President is always a big story, but TV news is obsessed with the Trump administration and not in a good way.
That last paragraph is the only described methodology used, and no further detail about the results are provided -- which are big warning signs that this study is bogus.
Another sign: the binary nature of the provided choices. "Negative" and "positive" are inherently subjective descriptions, and it defies logic that the coverage the MRC covered could only be described as one or the other. There's a high likelihood that Noyes and Ciandella are portraying negative news reported neutrally as "negative," which skews their study. As usual for MRC studies purporting to examine "the media," it's very narrowly tailored to cover only the CBS, NBC and ABC evening newscasts; Fox News is completely ignored.
Actual media researchers Stephen Farnsworth, S. Robert Lichter and Roland Schatz pointed out that Trump news coverage has skewed negative even from the Trumpophiles at Fox News. Their study also conceded that the majority of Trump coverage was neutral -- again, a category the MRC failed to include. The MRC, of course, would never conduct such "research" on Fox News because 1) it would prove the channel's right-wing bias, and 2) doing so would likely jeopardize MRC employees' regular appearances on it and sister channel Fox Business.
The researchers also noted that Trump's attacks on the media as the "enemy of the American people" also contributes to the negative coverage as well: "This puts journalists in a difficult position. If they challenge Trump at every turn, they may appear to be the opposition he claims they are. But if they conduct business as usual, this could simply let Trump be Trump at their expense."
Media Matters' Eric Boehlert added that most experts agree that the first month of Trump's presidency has been unusually chaotic, an environment that leads to news that the MRC is predisposed to describe as "negative." In other words, a significant amount of that "negative" coverage was created by Trump himself -- something else for which the MRC fails to account.
Instead, Noyes and Ciandella engage in the MRC's rote media-bashing, whining about the supposed "anti-Trump editorial tone" after CBS anchor Scott Pelley accurately reported that Trump made "statements divorced from reality."
Several weeks later, Noyes and Ciandella updated that study, and its predictable results (which the MRC wouldn't be touting if they didn't conform to its agenda) made making the right-wing rounds once again:
As President Trump approaches the end of his first 100 days in office, he has received by far the most hostile press treatment of any incoming American president, with the broadcast networks punishing him with coverage that has been 89% negative. The networks largely ignored important national priorities such as jobs and the fight against ISIS, in favor of a news agenda that has been dominated by anti-Trump controversies and which closely matches what would be expected from an opposition party.
Unlike last time, the MRC prominently touted what it claims to be a methodology for its study:
Methodology: Our measure of spin was designed to isolate the networks’ own slant, not the back-and-forth of partisan politics. Thus, our analysts ignored soundbites which merely showcased the traditional party line (Republicans supporting Trump, Democrats criticizing him), and instead tallied evaluative statements which imparted a clear positive or negative tone to the story, such as statements from experts presented as non-partisan, voters, or opinionated statements from the networks’ own reporters.
A prominently stated methodology, however, doesn't hide the fact that it's not a valid one. "Negative" and "positive" are subjective values, and thus, difficult to quantify for the purposes of objective research. Given, for example, the MRC's propensity to label anything and everything as "far left," its sense of value judgment in research probably shouldn't be trusted.
The study again failed to account for negative news reported objectively. That means a negative story about Trump is classified as "negative" even if it was reported accurately and without bias. Once again, there's no comprehensive list of evaluated statements so that less subjective observers can evaluate their work.
Finally, the MRC failed once more to provide a baseline from which to judge the relative purported "liberal bias" of the networks. The MRC would never subject the Trump-fluffers at Fox News to such a study. Indeed, MRC chief Brent Bozell appeared on Fox Business to promote the study, where he ludicrously ranted that "This is not a press that has any interest in objective truth." So the guy whose organization effectively denied the existence of objective truth in order to protect Trump from his continual stream of lies is now passing judgment on the media for refusing to be as sycophantic toward Trump as he demands them to be? And he's making that statement promote a "study" that's entirely subjective?
Trump and the MRC really are in this together, given the fact that both have benefited from the largesse of right-wing philanthropist Robert Mercer and his family (Mercer's daughter Rebekah is on the MRC board of directors).
Bozell and the MRC are in working-the-refs mode here -- they simply don't want any negative coverage of their boy Trump.
MRC attacks CNN for covering the news
The MRC tried to portray CNN as "Completely Obsessed With Donald Trump -- And Not In A Good Way," and the result was a May 16 item complaining that, um, CNN was covering the news. Rich Noyes wrote:
To get a handle on CNN’s news priorities during the Trump era, a team of MRC analysts reviewed all of the cable network’s programming on Friday, May 12, starting with the 4am ET Early Start and continuing through the 11pm ET CNN Tonight with Don Lemon, a total of 20 hours of material.
While Noyes did concede there were "neutral" commentators on CNN -- which somehow didn't make it into the accompanying chart, all the better to push the "anti-Trump" storyline -- he does not account for neutral commentators who said negative things about Trump. Heck, he doesn't even acknowledge that Trump's firing of Comey is something that many neutral people might be critical of.
As usual, Noyes refused to provide the full details of his research, like how he determined that CNN had 96 Trump-haters on in a single day. And while Noyes whined that Trump's firing of Comey was "a three-day-old story" at the time of his study, he didn't explain why it's a story that should not be discussed for a third day. A president firing his FBI director under suspicious circumstances is a newsworthy story, and were Trump a Democrat, the MRC would agree.
Like the MRC's other bogus studies, this isn't "research" at all -- it's a political document. If the MRC actually cared about conducting legitimate research, we would have seen a study sometime during the previous eight years titled "Fox News Is Completely Obsessed With Barack Obama -- And Not In A Good Way."
Dishonest budget study
Noyes wrote in a May 26 post:
In covering the President’s proposed budget this week, network reporters unanimously claimed it “cut” or even “slashed” federal spending. An MRC analysis of ABC, CBS and NBC morning and evening news coverage since Monday (May 22) finds that not a single reporter ever told viewers that overall federal spending would actually RISE under President Trump’s planned budget just not as much as forecast under the budget baseline Trump inherited from President Obama back in January.
But Noyes is making an apples-and-oranges comparison. Nearly every example Noyes cited referred to cuts in specific programs, while Noyes is referring to growth in the overall budget. Noyes also grumbles that "The only way journalists can claim Trump is cutting spending is by comparing his plans to the baseline of federal spending" -- which, again, is not what journalists were doing.
Noyes offers no clear example in which an evening news report unambiguously stated, in full context, that the overall federal budget was going to be cut.
Noyes waited until the final paragraph of his post to admit some of this -- then stayed the dishonest course anyway:
It’s accurate to say that Trump plans to reduce the extravagant increases in spending incorporated in current law, and some programs will see an actual reduction in their spending (after years of increases under Obama). But to repeatedly suggest that there will be “deep cuts” or some kind of “slashing” of federal spending creates a false narrative designed to bully politicians into backing away from a responsible spending plan.
If it's "accurate to say" that Trump is planning to cut some programs, why is Noyes attacking journalists for making accurate statements?
Also note Noyes' pro-Trump bias in declaring the Trump budget to be "responsible" while dismissing budget s during the Obama years as containing "extravagant spending" -- while providing no evidence to support either claim.
Speaking of lack of evidence: As usual, Noyes refuses to provide the full data from his so-called study, just undated anecdotes. Talk about dishonest.
Coverage of 'socialist' Venezuela collapse
Oh, look, it's another bogus "study" from the Media Research Center! Take it away, Mike Ciandella:
Just this year alone, more than 50 people have been killed protesting the heartbreaking malpractice of Venezuela’s socialist dictatorship. According to the IMF, inflation will surpass 700% this year, while unemployment will hit 25%; shortages of necessities such as food and medicine are rampant. The socialist president has cracked down on any opposition, and used the Venezuelan Supreme Court to nullify the election of an opposition-controlled Congress.
Despite calling himself a "research analyst" for the MRC, Ciandella apparently failed to do the most basic bit of analysis for this piece: whether socialism is, in fact, to blame for the crisis in Venezuela.
Ciandella offers no evidence to back up his contention that socialism is the sole cause of the Venezuelan crisis. Instead, he seems to think that because the government there called itself socialist, it must be and, thus, must be the reason it failed.
Ciandella is simply assuming that his very narrow selection of media failed to sufficiently mention "socialism" in regard to Venezuela because it's biased. Since Ciandella failed to do his basic homework for this study, he does not consider the possibility that they did and, thus, they know that socialism is not the sole cause.
And that is how the MRC uses its kneejerk right-wing bias to botch another "study."
Another terrible Trump coverage study
Noyes huffed in a June 27 item:
How much has the media’s obsession with the ongoing Russia investigation smothered the rest of the Trump policy agenda? A Media Research Center study of every broadcast network evening newscast in the five weeks since the appointment of special counsel Robert Mueller on May 17 found a whopping 353 minutes of airtime devoted to the Russia probe, or 55 percent of all coverage of the Trump presidency during those weeks.
The first problem with this so-called study, as with many of these MRC reports, is that 1) it again focuses only on a tiny sliver of "the media" -- the network evening news -- and ignores right-leaning media like Fox News. Second, there is no objective baseline provided as to what Noyes considers a proper level of coverage to the Russia story; therefore, any conclusion made is necessarily subjective. Noyes is obviously insinuating that the amount of coverage is excessive, but he can't or won't provide any evidence to prove it -- which tells us that he thinks any amount of coverage is excessive.
Noyes does concede that Trump's "ubiquitous tweets" on the Russia story demanded coverage, but then whined that "it’s not as if reporters felt compelled to cover all of Trump’s utterances." But Noyes will not admit that the Russia story as a whole deserved any media coverage whatsoever.
Indeed, Noyes complains that the Russia stories are hurting Trump, although he's doing so by hiding behind polls claiming the investigation is hurting the country:
TV’s obsession with the Russia investigation flies in the race of what the public says it actually cares about. According to a Harvard-Harris poll released late last week, “a majority of voters believe the Russia investigations are damaging to the country and are eager to see Congress shift its focus to healthcare, terrorism, national security, the economy and jobs.”
Noyes apparently has not considered the possibility that Trump has earned the negative media coverage he's received.