Harvard Study Concludes Media Biased Towards Democrats (What a Surprise!)

A new study of the media and its coverage of the 2008 elections so far was recently released by the Project for Excellence in Journalism at Harvard (hardly a bastion of conservatism). The results are not (or at least shouldn't be, unless you've been living under a rock for a few years) surprising for anybody who pays any attention to the MSM: media coverage is heavily slanted towards Democrats.

As reported by Terry Trippany:

A study by the Project for Excellence in Journalism and Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy has found that the media coverage of the 2008 presidential campaign was more likely to be spun in a positive manner toward Democrats than Republicans. The study also found that the press coverage of candidates was in sharp contrast to what the public says it wants from campaign reporting by concentrating on the effects that events have on candidates rather than reporting on how candidates’ stances on issues will affect the electorate. (h/t Bookworm)

In other words, the media is both slanted to the left and under performing in terms of public expectations on election coverage. The notable exception on left leaning bias is in talk radio; the one media outlet that is under attack by certain Democrats in Congress for emphasis on “fairness”.

Before I discuss the underlying data I think it is interesting to point out that the data on Fox News directly contradicts the mainstream narrative about its bias in favor of Republican candidates. While Fox news was more negative than other candidates about Democrats this trend merely helped underscore Fox’s neutrality in coverage because of the lopsided nature of Fox’s competitors as noted in the study.

The programming studied on Fox News offered a somewhat more positive picture of Republicans and more negative one of Democrats compared with other media outlets. Fox News stories about a Republican candidate were most likely to be neutral (47%), with the remainder more positive than negative (32% vs. 21% negative). The bulk of that positive coverage went to Giuliani (44% positive), while McCain still suffered from unflattering coverage (20% positive vs. 35% negative).

When it came to Democratic candidates, the picture was more negative. Again, neutral stories had a slight edge (39%), followed by 37% negative and 24% positive. And, in marked contrast from the rest of the media, coverage of Obama was twice as negative as positive: 32% negative vs. 16% positive and 52% neutral.

But any sense here that the news channel was uniformly positive about Republicans or negative about Democrats is not manifest in the data.

I find these statistics the most alarming of all the study results because a whole political party banned Fox News based on an unfounded narrative that was put forth by
liberal interest groups.

Newspapers lead all other media outlets in terms of content and tone favorable for Democrats. Perhaps the most disturbing facet of the newspaper coverage was that nearly half of all front page stories were triggered by newsroom initiative rather than reacting to what candidates did and said. This stands in contrast to all other media.

On the front pages of newspapers, Democrats tended to get more coverage than in other media, somewhat more positive coverage than elsewhere, and more stories tended to contain information that explained how they would be affected if that candidate were elected than was true in the press coverage overall. In addition, many more of the stories were initiated by journalists than elsewhere in the press, a fact that signals a special role for print as a source of enterprise in news.

Another distinguishing characteristic of the print stories studied was tone. Democrats got much more positive coverage in the daily papers examined than they did elsewhere. Fully 59% of all stories about Democrats had a clear, positive message vs. 11% that carried a negative tone. That is roughly double the percentage of positive stories that we found in the media generally. Just under a third (30%) of the front page stories examined were neutral.

For the top tier Democrats, the positive tilt was even more the case than for Democrats in general. Obama’s front page coverage in the sample was 70% positive and 9% negative and Clinton’s was similarly 61% positive and 13% negative.

Republican candidates, in contrast, were more likely to receive clearly negative stories in print than elsewhere: 40% negative vs. 26% positive and 34% neutral.

Newspapers also stood out for initiating more campaign coverage on their own. Nearly half of all front page stories were triggered by newsroom initiative rather than reacting to what the candidate or others said or did (46%). That is substantially higher than the 28% in the media generally in the sample. A little more than a third of stories were triggered by the candidates and their campaigns (37%), compared with 46% generally.

Following on the heels of newspapers was network evening news. The tone of coverage was again slanted toward Democrats with Barack Obama getting the bulk of positive coverage and John McCain getting the bulk of the negative.

Cable news was the one bastion of “friendly territory” for Republicans on the tube. Not that this means that Republicans received more favorable coverage or even some sense of neutrality. It just means that Republicans fared slightly better in this medium than others with the exception of talk radio.

What distinguished cable news more in the first five months of the year was the tone of the coverage. The positive-negative breakdown of Democrats followed roughly the same trend as the media overall (34% positive vs. 25% negative). But the tone of Republican coverage was quite different. On cable TV, stories about Republican candidates were nearly as likely to be positive as to be negative (29% positive vs. 30% negative).

But those numbers only reflect the three major cable news channels taken together. When you look at the coverage of each one, there are significant differences in how the candidates were treated. CNN gave decidedly more negative coverage to Republican candidates; Fox was more negative towards Democrats--and more positive towards Republicans; MSNBC gave decidedly positive coverage towards both.

Who fared the worst in terms of bias in cable? CNN naturally by casting Republicans in a negative light by a margin of three-to-one!

Talk radio hosts spent most of their time dwelling on the negative with a split along ideological lines.

It may surprise no one that the 2008 presidential election was a major feature of talk radio, both conservative and liberal. From January through May, the race for the White House has accounted for 13% of the total airtime studied, making it the second-biggest story after the debate over Iraq policy (17%). Overall, conservative talk radio was far more interested in the early campaign than was liberal talk radio. Conservative talk radio aired 106 segments on the candidates, while liberal talk radio mustered a bare 29 segments.

Most of that airtime was spent dwelling on the negative. Conservatives spent the bulk of their time criticizing Democratic candidates and liberal hosts vented about Republican contenders. The candidate who received the most attention by far on talk radio was Senator Clinton.

The study as a whole was quite illuminating. It appears that positive coverage of Barack Obama accounted for much of the positive lean toward Democrats. When erasing the coverage that focused on him in conjunction with the negative coverage of McCain the reporting was more even.

Nonetheless the study confirms that the perception of liberal bias in the media is more than just conjecture; statistical analysis confirms that belief.

Tone for Democrats vs. Republicans

Taking all the presidential hopefuls together, the press overall has been more positive about Democratic candidates and more negative about Republicans. In the stories mainly about one of the Democratic candidates, the largest percentage was neutral (39%), but more than a
third of stories (35%) were positive, while slightly more than a quarter (26%) carried a clearly negative tone.

For Republicans, the numbers were basically reversed. Again the same number as for Democrats (39%) were neutral, but more than a third (35%) were negative vs. 26% positive.

In other words, not only did the Republicans receive less coverage overall, the attention they did get tended to be more negative than that of Democrats. And in some specific media genres, the difference is particularly striking.

So when the liberals start saying that there is no media bias, just point them to this. For those of us who are subjected to the Dead Fish Wrapper, this isn't anything new.

 

It's a known fact that the

It's a known fact that the major media monkeys (NBC, ABC and CBS and affiliates) are nothing but propaganda mouthpieces for the extreme Left! CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg are also just propaganda outlets for the extreme Left as well? To get any kind of balanced news you have to go to Fox News. If you think this is just more partisan rhetoric, its actually backed up by a Harvard Study on media bias! The rest of them are about as believable as the Weekly World News with "Bat Boy" on the cover? When the market gets to decide what it wants to listen to Conservatives fare much better. Thats why Talk Radio is doing so well? People don't want to hear more ridiculous Liberal ideology and this is proven by the popularity of Conservative Talk Radio! The only way the Libs can drone there idiocy out there is through the media outlets they control and do not allow any divergent views to be aired? If they do air something, they assassinate it before and after with half-truths and rhetoric. Since they do not control Talk Radio they want to silence it with the so called "Fairness Doctrine" which is not fair? If they want "fair" then let them apply those same standards to the major TV Networks? There should be equal amounts of Conservative networks as Liberal biased ones then? If it's "fair" it can't only apply to Conservative stations which would be ridiculous! The media needs to wake up and realize the Extreme Left is not where the majority of the American Public resides! Americans are more conservative than they want to admit, since this is anathema to their extremist ideology. Hope to hear the news again someday without everything being polluted with Liberal "smoke"?

Media Bias

It's a known fact that the major media monkeys (NBC, ABC and CBS and affiliates) are nothing but propaganda mouthpieces for the extreme Left! CNN, MSNBC, Bloomberg are also just propaganda outlets for the extreme Left as well? To get any kind of balanced news you have to go to Fox News. If you think this is just more partisan rhetoric, its actually backed up by a Harvard Study on media bias! The rest of them are about as believable as the Weekly World News with "Bat Boy" on the cover? When the market gets to decide what it wants to listen to Conservatives fare much better. Thats why Talk Radio is doing so well? People don't want to hear more ridiculous Liberal ideology and this is proven by the popularity of Conservative Talk Radio! The only way the Libs can drone there idiocy out there is through the media outlets they control and do not allow any divergent views to be aired? If they do air something, they assassinate it before and after with half-truths and rhetoric. Since they do not control Talk Radio they want to silence it with the so called "Fairness Doctrine" which is not fair? If they want "fair" then let them apply those same standards to the major TV Networks? There should be equal amounts of Conservative networks as Liberal biased ones then? If it's "fair" it can't only apply to Conservative stations which would be ridiculous! The media needs to wake up and realize the Extreme Left is not where the majority of the American Public resides! Americans are more conservative than they want to admit, since this is anathema to their extremist ideology. Hope to hear the news again someday without everything being polluted with Liberal "smoke"?

Media Bias

The study clearly showed media bias overwhelmingly against Conservatives and pro Lib which is no surprise. The major media outlets are nothing but propaganda mouthpieces for the Libs! It's very obvious, just try to find a positive story about any Republicans from any of the major print media, for example the NYT, which is ridiculously slanted towards Libs. CNN, MSNBC and all the rest except Fox which is actually more fair and certainly not as biased towards Republicans as the other ones are towards Libs according to the study! When the market is allowed to determine who Americans like to listen to, the Conservatives fair better. When the media is controlled by the Libs then its overwhelmingly Lib biased without any choice really. Thats the only way the Libs can actually get anybody to listen to their loony ideology is by forcing it upon people! Talk radio is a good example of what people like to listen too when given the choice!

Hey Steve, thanks for

Hey Steve, thanks for setting Ann straight. It's upsetting to let a total lack of critical thought go unchecked. As for the study, Great. And Harvard, no less. Surely Libbies out there can't complain, but somehow... I just know they will. And for those who don't read and carefully consider the findings of this study, they can always flash back to that wonderfully unbiased interview Chuck-a-luck Gibson had with Sarah Palin. Yep. Sure. No bias there. In Barackspeak, it was just more of the same.

Not Quite

Actually, the study showed that Obama was more postively viewed than McCain, hence the reason for the difference in positive versus negative stories. This is born out in polls as well. What's not to like with Obabma? When the other candidates that were reviewed are examined, the coverage was virtually identical. Nice spin, but it didn't show bias. Of course, if you wish to blame the mediua for the GOP's woes, then you can interpret the article as you must. I prefer to look at the facts of the study, not a headline spin of it.

It's across the board

There's a lot not to like about Obama. He's all fluff with no substance. He obviously doesn't have the experience to lead the country. But that's beside the point.

So what you're saying is because people (i.e reporters, etc.) like Obama better than McCain, so that's why he got better coverage? If that's how you choose leaders, then I feel sorry for you. There are a lot of likeable people in the world, but that doesn't mean they would make good leaders. Also, what happened to unbiased journalism? Granted, that went out the window a long time ago, but the liberal media certainly isn't even keeping up that pretext any more.

You should go back and re-read the conclusion.

Taking all the presidential hopefuls together, the press overall has been more positive about Democratic candidates and more negative about Republicans. In the stories mainly about one of the Democratic candidates, the largest percentage was neutral (39%), but more than a
third of stories (35%) were positive, while slightly more than a quarter (26%) carried a clearly negative tone.

For Republicans, the numbers were basically reversed. Again the same number as for Democrats (39%) were neutral, but more than a third (35%) were negative vs. 26% positive.

In other words, not only did the Republicans receive less coverage overall, the attention they did get tended to be more negative than that of Democrats. And in some specific media genres, the difference is particularly striking.

Across the board, the difference is striking. Not a lot of ambiguity there, is there?

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