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Thursday, June 14, 2007
Methodology Wars
Topic: NewsBusters

In a June 14 NewsBusters post highlighting the MRC's criticism of a Project for Excellence in Journalism study finding that Fox News offers less Iraq war coverage than CNN or MSNBC, Tim Graham repeats his post on the NRO Media Blog attacking the PEJ's studies as "Swiss-cheese studies. Their studies are not comprehensive, but a series of little snapshots making random selections of certain hours of TV content and not others." From Graham's NRO post:

Look at their methodology page.  For MSNBC, they coded two out of these four programs per night: Tucker, Hardball, Countdown, and Scarborough Country. Obviously, if you only code frenzied Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, you’d get a much different result than if you analyzed Tucker Carlson and Joe Scarborough. (Or at least we can hope.) Then they only watch the first half-hour of each program, not the whole thing.

We're not sure what the problem is. Graham never explains why the random cross-section method is not a valid way to conduct this kind of research -- which, in the case of the PEJ study, covered "48 different outlets in five media sectors, including newspapers, online, network TV, cable TV, and radio" and focused on trends and trajectories in news coverage, not specific examination of content beyond subject.

Graham went on to claim in his NewsBusters post that the MRC's 2006 study of Iraq war coverage was "a more thorough study of Iraq coverage on cable." But Graham is comparing apples and oranges. The PEJ is not trying to find "bias" in content; the MRC is. And it's arguably just as much a "Swiss cheese study" as the PEJ's; its methodology was to examine "the 10am and 2pm EDT hours of live weekday news coverage" over a two-month period.

The MRC's study was largely devoted to shoring up preconceived notions of "liberal bias," with its main finding being that CNN and MSNBC offered "lopsidedly negative coverage" of the Iraq war, while Fox News did not. The study also skews to the MRC's longtime obsession of demonstrating that Fox News is not biased (though MRC representatives get preferential treatment in their appearances on Fox). At one point, the question is asked: "So how does the Fox News Channel compare to its cable news competitors? Or do liberal journalists’ complaints reveal more about their ideological preferences than the professionalism of FNC’s correspondents?" At no point are the correspondents of CNN and MSNBC described as "professional."

Further, the study does not explain why the "pessimistic" tone of CNN and MSNBC's coverage is inherently biased or non-reflective of reality, or why Fox News' "fair and balanced" coverage is not biased or is an accurate reflection of reality. Nor does the study explain why there most be a "balanced" representation of positive vs. negative news in Iraq war reporting.

Graham was not the only NewsBusters denzien to bash the PEJ study. A June 13 post by Matthew Sheffield called the PEJ "leftish" and repeated Bill O'Reilly's defense of Fox News' lack of coverage -- "We don't highlight every terrorist attack because we learn nothing from that. And that's exactly what the terrorists want us to do" -- concluding, "O'Reilly's overall point is spot-on."

Posted by Terry K. at 4:19 PM EDT

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