ConWebWatch home
ConWebBlog: the weblog of ConWebWatch
Search and browse through the ConWebWatch archive
About ConWebWatch
Who's behind the news sites that ConWebWatch watches?
Letters to and from ConWebWatch
ConWebWatch Links
Buy books and more through ConWebWatch

Bogus MRC Media 'Studies,' Continued

Not only is the Media Research Center continuing to push out studies that pretend the network evening news is the entirety of "the media," it attacks real studies by actual researchers that take a much more accurate view of the media landscape.

By Terry Krepel
Posted 10/3/2017

The Media Research Center has been getting some great right-wing press for its so-called studies -- which, of course, is why it continues to do them. For example, conservative media reporter Joe Concha gushed about them in an appearance on Fox News: "I get they're conservative, but no one challenges their data."

Wrong, Joe. ConWebWatch has always challenged the MRC's data, and we are compelled to do so once again.

The MRC's Sept. 12 "study" by Rich Noyes and Mike Ciandella -- the one Concha was gushing about -- arrived under the headline "The Liberal Media’s Summer of Pummeling Trump." And therein lies the MRC's first deception. The "study" does not examine the entire media, or even the entire "liberal media" -- it looks only at the evening newscasts on ABC, NBC and CBS. That's a very tiny sliver of the media, a half-hour on three channels. Throughout their report, Noyes and Ciandella repeatedly conflate this sliver with all of "TV."

Noyes and Ciandella then offered what they claimed was a "methodology":

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.

Using these criteria, MRC analysts tallied 1,567 evaluative statements about the Trump administration in June, July and August, of which 1,422 (91%) were negative vs. a mere 145 (9%) which were positive. Since Trump took office on January 20, there have been 4,144 such evaluative statements, of which 3,712 (90%) were negative, vs. 432 (10%) which were positive.

First: "Spin" is not something that can be measured objectively -- it's an entirely subjective value. Similarly, "positive" and "negative" are subjective as well. Given the MRC's inherent bias against those very evening newscasts, it's predisposed to find negative evaluations, making its results even more biased and making that 91% number highly suspicious.

Second: The "evaluative statements" were only only positive or negative? There were no neutral evaluations? It's unlikely that all of the statements were so binary.

Third: Noyes and Ciandella make no evaluation of whether the Trump actions that were evaluated deserved the negative responses they claim to have documented, despite claiming that "All Presidents deserve critical news coverage from time to time." Instead, they assert without evidence that Trump is as "highly controversial" as President Obama was, but "Obama’s policies matched the liberal media’s preferences, while Trump’s agenda clearly clashes with the establishment media’s world view."

Fourth: Noyes and Ciandella don't provide a list of the "evaluative statements" they tallied, which makes this something of a black-box exercise. Perhaps they don't want people to know just how subjective their judgments are.

While Concha doesn't appear to think so, there's plenty to challenge about the MRC's data -- and it demonstrates that this study does not display scientific rigor and is too biased to be taken seriously as anything other than red meat for right-wing activists. You know, like most MRC "studies."

Nevertheless, the MRC was on a roll with its biased so-called "studies." It Ciandella served up another one on Sept. 13:

The twin disasters of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma showcased once again the media's reflex to use such tragedies to push for liberal climate change policies.

In their pursuit of this agenda, the broadcast networks' have heavily criticized the Trump administration's policies on the environment. From January 20 through August 31, MRC analysts tallied 75 stories discussing the President and climate change, totaling 73 minutes, 43 seconds of network airtime.

The commentary in these stories was as one-sided as the rest of Trump's coverage has been, with 88 percent of evaluative statements criticizing the President, vs. a mere 12 percent that praised him.

Once again, Ciandella ignores the vast majority of of the media universe to portray a half-hour of time on three channels as representative of the entire "media." Also note that Ciandella is trying to politicize science by declaring that anything that supports the scientific consensus on climate change to be "liberal."

And we have another dubious "methodology":

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.

Using these criteria, MRC analysts tallied 121 evaluative statements about the Trump administration’s approach to the environment from January 20 to August 31, 2017, of which 106 (88%) were negative vs. a mere 15 (12%) which were positive.

Again, "negative" and "positive" are subjective values, not objective ones that can be subject to scientific definition and rigor, and Ciandella is either ignoring neutral statements or forcing them into "negative" or "positive" camps.

Ciandella's bias is obvious in the examples he cites (again, the MRC refused to release full documentation of the study results), in which he portrays the reporting of facts as "negative":

The most consistent factor in all of this coverage was the criticism. NBC Nightly News correspondent Matt Bradley’s July 30 quip that “President Donald Trump shifts American climate commitments into reverse” was typical of the media attitude towards the president’s environmental policies.

On June 2, Nightly News correspondent Kristen Welker promoted an anti-Trump protest over this decision, hyping “the backlash is only heating up.”

The same night, CBS Evening News’s anchor Anthony Mason spoke of the “world of opposition to withdraw from the Paris climate accord.” Correspondent Chip Reid echoed by referencing “worldwide condemnation.”

NBC Nightly News, anchor Savannah Guthrie on June 1 criticized the move to withdraw from the climate treaty: “detractors say it is a stunning abandonment of the U.S.’s leadership in the world, and a grave threat to the planet itself.”

To their credit, CBS stood alone in interviewing a conservative to hear the other side of the climate change debate. On April 22, CBS Evening News, correspondent Dean Reynolds noted that Joe Bast, CEO of The Heartland Institute, “looks with approval on Mr. Trump’s decision to roll back regulations limiting greenhouse gases, and to his appointments of fellow skeptics in the administration. Climate change, he [Bast] says, is a naturally occurring cyclical phenomenon caused mostly by the sun, not an approaching disaster accelerated by carbon dioxide emissions caused by humans.”

However, before stating this position, Reynolds noted that “most climate scientists, the United Nations, as well as NASA, dismiss these arguments as propaganda for fossil fuels.

So Ciandella is effectively proving Stephen Colbert correct once again: Reality does have a well-known liberal bias.

Hillary study freakout

Meanwhile, the MRC remains in the throes of Hillary Derangement Syndrome. There's no better illustration of that than its predictable freakout any time someone suggests that media was unfair to her during the 2016 presidential election -- and its attack on better-sourced studies that support the claim.

An Aug. 30 column by the MRC's Tim Graham and Brent Bozell lashed out at a Harvard University study pointing out that media coverage of Hillary Clinton during the presidential campaign "was focused on scandals, while [Donald] Trump's coverage focused on his core issues." They ranted: "No one could plausibly argue that the media was nicer to Trump than they were to Hillary Clinton, or that they treated his policy proposals with more respect. They dubbed Trump's comments on immigration and Islam as horribly scandalous, while they dismissed Clinton's scandals like the private email server as a 'stupid issue' (as John Dickerson of CBS said)."

But Graham and Bozell were really incensed that the Harvard study's examination of media was much broader than the MRC's usual exceedingly (and strategically) narrow definition of a half-hour of evening news on three channels:

When most people hear the term "the press," they think of the traditional press, the so-called objective media outlets. But this Harvard study defined the press as including a bunch of "hyperpartisan" sites, from Breitbart on the right to the Daily Kos on the left. It evaluated social media, studying the most shared stories of the campaign. That might be interesting, but it's not a study of press coverage as most people understand it.

Just because the study's definition of media doesn't conform to the one the MRC constructed for maximum ideological exploitation doesn't mean it's invalid. In fact, it's much more accurate. Let's not pretend that a significant number of Americans don't get a significant amount of their political news from "hyperpartisan" operations.

Bozell and Graham then returned to rant mode to attack the study's methodology:

But here's where we scream "Buyer beware" on these studies of campaign bias. Did the Harvard researchers actually read the contents of each story? No. They offered "content analysis using automated tools."

They had Media Cloud software scan sentences ... because their sample was literally millions of stories. This is as nebulous as counting the number of Google mentions of a topic to say whether it was overcovered or undercovered. At least another Harvard outfit, the Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy, issues studies "conducted by trained full-time employees who visually evaluate the content."

As if this is somehow less rigorous than the MRC's so-called "methodology" of having ideologically biased researcher assigning entirely subjective "negative" or "positive" values to news coverage that deliberately fails to take into account the factual accuracy of said coverage. It doesn't matter if the contents were read if that reader is so biased (remember, the ability to push a right-wing agenda is a prerequisite for employment at the MRC) that no reasonable person would consider his or her judgments to be objective.

Graham and Bozell concluded by huffing: "Clinton can't blame the liberal media for her defeat."

When Clinton embarked on a media to promote her campaign memoir, "What Happened," in which she blamed her loss in part on the media, the MRC went into freakout mode again, this time in a Sept. 15 post by Rich Noyes with the shouty headline "FACT: The News Media Did NOT Tip the Election to Trump." but all Noyes does is serve up the MRC's earlier narrowly tailored studies that focus only on that half-hour of evening news on three channels.

For the first time, though -- perhaps annoyed at people pointing out just how strategically narrowly tailored its focus is -- Noyes offers a justification for focusing only on that tiny sliver of time: reviewing only CBS, ABC and NBC is "the best proxy for a manageable examination of all campaign news from important national sources."

Well, no. Cable news channels are not important sources of news? Political websites aren't?

The MRC has a multimillion-dollar budget, funded in no small part by Mercer money, and it can easily afford to do more comprehensive research. But that would involve having to examine Fox News, whose bias the MRC simply refuses to acknowledge because it's the same bias the MRC wants all media to have.

Noyes' "facts" are preconceived, and the MRC sculpts its so-called evidence to reinforce those preconceived notions -- hence the focus only on network evening news shows to the exclusion of everything else.

Nevertheless, Noyes offered up his own final-paragraph huffing: "Hillary Clinton was not the media darling that Barack Obama was in 2008, but no reasonable person could suggest that political reporters created a landscape more favorable to Donald Trump than to her. And it’s just silly of her to say the news media, which detests Trump, was one of the causes of her defeat." And Noyes detests Clinton enough to insist this is true.

Clinton's promotional appearances for her new book brought Graham and Bozell back out to rehash its column from a month earlier, insisting that the Harvard study it bashed last time around was "embarrassingly terrible" because it "included blogs and tweets and was judged by a computer, not actual humans." they went on to cite the MRC's own study, avoiding the fact that its biased researchers and excessively narrow focus on "the network evening news broadcasts" made for studies that are even more embarrassingly terrible.

Graham and Bozell let out another end-of-column whine: "All this demonstrates that the media display no self-respect when it's suggested they were all Trump lackeys without a conscience for the country. Where's the fight? Where's the rebuttal? Where's the disgust with such a shameless falsehood? The chin stroking just underlines that they were in Clinton's pantsuit pocket then and they remain there today."

Of course, Graham, Bozell and the rest of the MRC are Trump lackeys fully in his pocket, and they lack any self-respect in insisting their bogus studies have any value beyond advancing a right-wing anti-media agenda.

Send this page to:

Bookmark and Share
The latest from

In Association with
Support This Site

home | letters | archive | about | primer | links | shop
This site © Copyright 2000-2017 Terry Krepel