Wednesday, November 19, 2008

How Biased Is the Media?

Zogby International's post-election poll gives us an idea how effectively the media got across negative stories about the two tickets. This was a poll of self-identified Obama voters conducted last week. The results are a bit disturbing. Following a multiple-choice format, voters displayed their awareness, or lack thereof, of certain negative news from the campaign.
  • Aware that Palin was the candidate with a pregnant teenage daughter - 94%
  • Aware that Palin was the candidate with the pricey wardrobe - 86%
  • Aware that Biden was the candidate to predict Obama will be "tested" - 53%
  • Aware that Democrats currently control the House and Senate - 43%
  • Aware that Biden was the candidate who dropped out of an earlier presidential race due to plagiarism - 28%
  • Aware that Obama was the candidate who first won election by removing all opponents from the ballot - 17%
  • Aware that Obama was the candidate who said his energy policies would likely bankrupt the coal industry - 12%
This says a certain amount about the voters - less than half knew that Democrats control both houses of Congress. And it says a certain amount about the media - it managed to inform people very well of trivial "scandals", like Palin's wardrobe and Biden's "test" statement, and very poorly of serious content and history. The anti-Republican bias is also clear.

The group that commissioned the Zogby survey has a video of a dozen Obama voters trying to answer these questions on election day.

Hat tip to BOTWT.


Emily Grace said...

My mom told me about this last night. Infuriating and kind of heartbreaking, too. (Not to be dramatic about it or anything. :-) )

Mike said...

Oh, please. I'm tired of the "omg omg the media is soooo biased" complaint.

The media will report in such a way as to increase their viewer base. Their self-interest is profit maximization (perhaps you'd like some government regulation of the media *gasp*). Americans today read People magazine, not Newsweek. Blame the misinformed voters if you want, but ditch the banal accusations of liberal media bias.

Chops said...

Give me a break, Mike. The media does act in their own self-interest, but that includes getting their favorite candidates elected.

They choose how to report stories as well as what to report. For instance, the stock market dropped hundreds of points the day after Obama was elected, and the headline writers chose "Investors Capture Gains After Election" as the headline, instead of "Stocks Slide" or "Markets Down Sharply On Election Result".

Just watch: instead of constant recession predictions, which is all we got through the last 8 years, we'll probably be getting all kinds of drummed-up good news about how things aren't as bad as they seem. That'll be nice for a change, but it's all a function of what reporters and editors think of the administration.

Mike said...

I disagree. Right now, there is a lot of excitement surrounding Obama's election. That gets viewers to tune in. People don't want to hear about Wall Street woes anymore, certainly not the day after the first African-American was elected to the presidency.

If, 6 months into his presidency, he has made a bunch of obvious mistakes or questionable decisions, I am certain the media will feed him to the wolves. Why? That kind of thing gets viewers too. The connection between media and voters is kind of a two-way mirror. To some extent each is a reflection of the other.

There *could* be a slight media bias (I wouldn't honestly believe it until I saw actual voting numbers from reporters and editors), but I just don't think that it's nearly as large or pervasive as conservatives claim.

Chops said...

Mike, according to, 52% of journalists polled reported voting for Kerry in 2004 and 19% reported voting for Bush.

In 1992, 89% of Washington-based journalists voted for Clinton.

John Tierney, polling the journalists covering the Dem Convention during the 2004 campaign, found that journalists favored Kerry by 3-to-1 while Washington-based journalists favored Kerry by 12-to-1.

None of this surprised me in the least, given what they write and how they write it.

Chops said...

Here's an example exposed by Michael Kinsley at WaPo:

Smoking is a disgusting habit that can kill you and those around you. Barack Obama claims to have quit, but the evidence is ambiguous. And the media's lack of interest in this question supports the charge that Obama is enjoying a honeymoon with the press. Compare the attention given to John McCain's melanoma -- a health problem more likely than smoking to kill him in the next four years, but also a problem beyond his control. Smoking, by contrast, is behavior. It sets a deplorable example for young people, millions of whom Obama has inspired into active citizenship.

Even *I* didn't know that Obama was a smoker (at least through the primaries), and I follow this stuff pretty closely.

Mike said...

This "" is very much a conservative watchdog site, just read their charter. I'm always skeptical of these "fact-checkers" (on either side of the aisle).

We can argue all day about the presumed liberal media bias, but this brings me back to my original point, so let me elaborate.

There are two possibilities:

1) Media bias exists and is pervasive.

If this is the case, it's reasonable to say that it has been around for years and that it's not going to disappear anytime soon.

2) Media bias is not nearly as pervasive as conservatives claim.

This case speaks for itself.

Either way, drilling this point home over and over will not help conservatives win elections.

I'd rather see other, more compelling arguments as to why I should not have voted for Obama (and yes, I have been aware for a long time that he's a smoker). I'm probably better informed than the typical voter, but there's no informational asymmetry here: the McCain/Palin campaign could have figured out a strategy to handle any presumed bias (Bush did, twice), but they failed.

I just don't think there's a sinister media conspiracy afoot. At most, any presumed media bias is merely one challenge conservatives have to overcome. There are challenges to be faced by each side (ones that are unique to each side!).

Besides, aren't liberals supposed to be the ones who scream about conspiracies, evil plots, and whatnot?! Gosh! :D

Chops said...

I'm not saying there's a conspiracy afoot, or drawing implications from the fact... I'm just saying the media is pretty freaking biased.

While MediaResearch is a partisan outfit, the data they cite seems legit. There certainly seems to be a consensus that journalism is heavily populated by liberal Democrats. I've not seen data that questions this.

As long as you keep changing your positions, you can avoid admitting you're wrong. But I think I've given ample proof of my thesis, which is that the media is heavily biased in favor of Democrats, and this affects what the electorate knows about candidates.

Mike said...

You're not used to getting some opposition on your blog, Chops.

I haven't changed my position at all. Read my first post. I said that I'm tired of hearing about the "liberal media bias." Next, I said that I'm not convinced that the media bias is as pervasive as conservatives claim. And finally, I tried to better explain my initial claim. Sorry, but I fail to see where I changed my position.

I'll admit that there are fairly compelling arguments as to the existence of this bias (which you have made above, but NOT including the initial blog post and video--those "interviews" are hardly scientific and instead are effective only their shock-value), but I think the more interesting discussion (that is far more unclear) is regarding the extent of its impact. THAT is what I question. Magnitude, not direction.

Chops said...

Mike -

Your initial comment challenged the existence of media bias:

The media will report in such a way as to increase their viewer base. Their self-interest is profit maximization... Blame the misinformed voters if you want, but ditch the banal accusations of liberal media bias.

And if you want to see some opposition, check out the cross-posting of this article on Watchblog.

Chops said...

But it is nice to have some discussion / argument here at GR, too :-)

Mike said...

Yes we must expand your liberal reader-base :D

Casey said...

Salim, this poll is asking whether people are aware of "facts" that are actually opinions.

There are so many problems with questions like, "Are you aware that Barack Obama's political career began in the home of a terrorist?" Think about it -- when does a political career begin? When you first begin having serious ambitions? When you first find a social place (editing HLR) that gives you political access? The moment of first election? Point is, it's an ambiguous matter. If you ask an ambiguous question on how a candidate's career begins, the way you answer it reveals more about your favorable/unfavorable view of the candidate than your awareness of facts. From this perspective, it is not surprising that Obama supporters are "unaware" that they don't like their candidate.

My problem here is chiefly with the argumentation, not the argument itself. I'd certainly expect voters on both sides to be less aware of negative facts dealing with their own candidate. You can show this with a proper poll. You don't need to resort to intellectual fraud, asking if people are "aware" of contrary opinions.

Aside from the crappy questions, the design of the study is dumb. It has been known for decades that American voters are politically unaware, and it seems obvious to me that they should be less aware of negative facts pertaining to their own candidate. With these as given, a better study would ask, "Are Democrats or Republicans more/less aware of negative facts pertaining to their candidate?" You could even see how this awareness is tied to choice of media channel, thus pinning down the source of media bias.

Oh wait, that's already been done from a much more significant angle. (Sorry, couldn't find a link to the original study, so that's just a summarizing page.)

Given the way the right wing media was skewering Obama as a Islamo-terrorist antichrist, to the point that McCain ralliers were panicking about his Arab-ness and booing during McCain's concession speech, I'd guess right wingers would be the more misinformed here. And the more hateful. And, given their irrational hatred for the President-elect of the United States, they're certainly also less patriotic.

Get the mote out of your own eye first.

Chops said...

Casey -

I left the "terrorist" question out of my summary because it was subjective, as you say. The ones I cited are factual.

As far as who is more hateful... it would be impressive if the right could possibly match the vitriol displayed by the left in the past 8 years. Not impossible, but I'd be surprised.