New Op-ed at Fox News: Media Coverage of Palin and Biden

The new piece starts like this:

First impressions count a lot. The media coverage this last week introduced the Republican and, to a much lesser extent, the Democratic Vice Presidential nominees to the American people. The coverage not only tells us something about how people will view the candidates, it also tells us something about the media and the parties themselves.

Obviously, the media’s coverage may reflect just the information it is given, not necessarily bias. Negative coverage of a candidate may mean either that there are some real problems with the candidate or that the other party is raising concerns that the media is merely passing on to their readers. A CNN headline conveys this point quite well as some Democrats came out immediately on Friday morning saying that “Palin could be a ‘disaster.’” Also on Friday, Barack Obama “backed away” within hours from a campaign press release that Politico described as “ripping” into Palin.

By contrast, the ad the Republicans released immediately after Joe Biden’s nomination took a different tack. It pointed to statements Biden had made disparaging Obama during the primaries and extolling the virtues of John McCain.

The announcements of both Joe Biden and Sarah Palin generated massive amounts of news coverage. A simple Google news search shows that there were 26,572 stories the Saturday that Obama told the country that Biden was his vice presidential pick. McCain’s pick of Palin generated 11,293 stories.

What is interesting is the theme of these stories. For vice presidential nominees, I searched a whole range of terms to see how the media described the nominees: experience, abortion, conservative, moderate, liberal, safe, risky, etc., using Google News searches. (Lexis-Nexis yielded roughly similar relative rankings.)

For Biden, the top ten terms found were: experience (excluding "executive experience") (69%), abortion (21%), liberal (11%), safe (7%), long-winded(5%), moderate (5%), plagiarism (3%), gun-control (2%), executive experience (2%), and exaggerate or exaggerated (dealing with exaggerated claims he made about his college grades and accomplishments that helped end his 1988 race) (1%).

For Palin, the top ten were: conservative (49%), abortion (44%), brother-in-law (picking up claims that she improperly tried to get her ex-brother-in-law fired) (17%), corruption and oil (17%), risky or risks or risk (16%),glass ceiling (13%), Quayle (10%), exciting (9%), inexperience OR "lack experience" OR "limited experience" (8%), and bold (8%). . . .

Continue reading it here.

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Anonymous Clark said...

Clearly you are aiming for a "liberal media is unfair to Sarah Palin" theme, but you begin with a false premise: that there are an equal amount of good and bad things to be said about each candidate. If that were the case, if in all important respects the two individuals were somehow equal, then your analysis of the key words used might mean something. But they are not. They are very different people, so different things will be reported.

You make a big deal of Palin being identified as conservative... well duh... the Republicans have gone out of their way to tout her conservative credentials. And we know that McCain is on the outs with consevatives, so in that context, her conservative creds matter a lot. Nobody is surprised that Obama, being a liberal, picked a liberal. He's not trying to beef up his liberal creds, so why would anyone need to make a point about it? But he *is* trying to shore up his lack of experience so, of course media is reporting on that. Plus, if you recall, Biden was running for the nomination not too long ago, so it's not like the public has never heard of him before (not to mention his years of public service)... it's not as if the public has to be introduced to him for the first time or anything just because he's running for VP.

You seem to think it's unfair for Palin to be labelled "risky." Why? Isn't it kind of risky to pick a relative unknown with little experience? By contrast, I'd say Obama's picking Biden is so safe that it's boring.

Also I have to note that you don't seem to think that "conservative" is a "positive" term. Why not?

In all, this is pretty weak analysis of the coverage. Obviously, it meshes with Fox's (incorrect) premise that the rest of the mainstream media is liberal, so I guess that's why it's featured on the website.

9/02/2008 1:39 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

My analysis didn't try to focus on just the term risky, but tried to make the broader point about how positive and negative factors were covered for the two candidates. Biden's coverage as a "liberal" was fairly close to the rate that he was mentioned as a "moderate" (6 percentage points). Biden isn't just liberal, Obama and he are ranked as numbers one and three. It seems like it should get some comments (at least more than a fifth the rate that Palin is mentioned as a conservative).

There are lots of other negative things about Biden that just didn't even register on the news search. How about the $3.4 million dollar earmark that Obama pushed for something that Biden's son was the lead lobbyist for? Possibly that will still become the focus, but so far it hasn't nor do I have the impression that the media is putting as much effort into looking into it.

9/02/2008 2:10 PM  
Blogger mattomega said...

It's also important to note that, while McCain thought he was taking some of the attention away from Obama's nomination address, what he ended up doing was muting Palin's announcement, causing too much news in one 24-hour cycle. As a result, a lot of people had the initial reaction of "huh?" as they did not know anything about Palin, and that, of course, is perceived as "negative" for those who want to perceive it as such.

Also, the "liberal media" notion is dead as dead can be. The fact that the Iraq War was never vetted in the media puts your argument to rest. Further, John McCain has received virtually NO hard examination in the media, whereas you had CNN camped outside Barack Obama's Indonesian grade school. Nice try, Lott, but give us a break.

9/02/2008 2:11 PM  
Blogger John Lott said...

Dear mattomega:

Anecdotal stories will only take you so far. The question is to actually ad up the stories and see how balanced they are. That is what I tried to do. Your impressions might be affected by the political filter that you bring to the issue.

9/02/2008 2:26 PM  
Anonymous BJ Spanos said...

I would be interested to know how your analysis breaks down by network - CNN, Fox, MSNBC, NBC, CBS, ABC, BBC and so on. Seems to me that different networks have different biases, and their reporters / anchors are not shy about it, either. For example, I watched Larry King and James Carville work very hard to discredit Gov. Palin last night. I realize they are not "reporters" but they are members of the mainstream media.

As a Univ. of Maryland Journalism graduate (1980), I have been critical of media bias for many years. Analyses like this one are very helpful. Great job!

9/02/2008 2:59 PM  
Blogger Maddie said...

It does seem like the media is more liberal in its reporting on Palin. For example, it appeared that Palin was being painted as a small town mayor rather than a seated governor. Her experience was touted as non existent where her executive experience clearly requires day to day decisions and actions not required by Senators who vote when it's convenient for them to do so.

That being said, Palin was a relatively unknown figure on the national scene so I expect her to be vetted in the media on that basis. I think it appropriate that the term "risky" shows up in far more articles about her.

I'm also surprised that Biden has been given a free pass though too. The media seems to have a love affair with the Obama ticket. It was slow to report on his affiliations with Jeremiah Wright, painted Hilary Clinton as a screaming shrew, Bill Ayers (the unrepentant terrorist) hosted fundraisers for Obama's campaign and Tony Resco's "helping" Obama with his home purchase.

By all rights, it should be a Hilary vs. McCain contest. And before anyone claims I'm blinded by partisanship, I'm still voting for Bob Barr as a protest against our two socialist/nanny-state parties.


9/02/2008 5:11 PM  
Anonymous John K said...

As to the "liberal media" template being dead, maybe so but the nature of the Obama coverage can make an unbiased person sick. I'm watching the US media from Europe and to see such sycophantic overwhelming coverage of any politican is quite alarming. If you do a little research on the web you can find that Obama is "friendly" (by his own admission) with unrepentent terrorist Bill Ayers, friends with convicted fraudster Tony Rezko and his "mentor" is a nutjob who thinks that US government invented AIDS to exterminate the black population... Obama's judgement of people is as weak as his experience of 1.5 year in the US senate, yet the coverage portrays him in a glorious light. The same thing goes on here regarding your analysis, John. Biden gets massive coverage simply because he is the running-mate of Obama and the media won't turn on their earlier practices, and Palin gets hammered because she runs against "the" Obama whose experience is "a speech he gave in 2002".

9/02/2008 6:53 PM  
Anonymous ED said...

John, I fully concur with your analysis re media bias. It is frightening to hear it, and equally disturbing that so many people don't recognize it or refute it. Thank God for talk radio and blogs. At least we needn't rely on the major networks for opinion. Those same networks "shovel" opinion and call it news and reporting. I am constantly amazed that in spite of this bias, combined with what is provided in the public schools and universities in the name of education, this country still has a significant conservative sector. May God continue to protect us from the dread of liberalism and socialism.

9/02/2008 8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Palin is a newcomer to the national political scene (I'd never heard of her before). Of course the press's coverage will be of basic facts about her. And a bit of a "who is she?" reaction as well--i.e., Dan Quayle.

Whereas Biden's coverage, as someone who'd been campaigning for a year already, would be different. People already know basic facts about him.

9/02/2008 9:16 PM  
Anonymous Craig said...

I have to agree 100% with clark. Give it up John, your analysis doesn't really mean anything, your thesis is bogus. The GOP is trying to showcase Palin's conservative credentials, and have you seen those credentials? Legislation trying to support the act of shooting wolves and bears from planes. She said she was against "the bridge to nowhere" and other earmarks, but she actually supported the first and lobbied for plenty of the second. The notion that Biden might be as off-center to the left, as Palin is too the right, is almost ridiculous. If anything, your analysis shows that the media might actually be covering this event in a manner that is somewhat reflected in reality!

9/02/2008 9:37 PM  
Blogger sue said...

I would like to know how come there is so much controversy about Palin's family values when the democrat nominee for PRESIDENT was a COCAINE user ......What kind of example is that ? We all know that cocaine is very very addicticting and always has a hold on a former user ..............Will Obama relapse?

9/03/2008 9:52 AM  
Blogger sue said...

Why will you not post something about Obama's drug use??????????

9/03/2008 10:30 AM  
Blogger Rick said...

As a communications/speech major in college the first thing you learn is that human communication can never be truly unbiased. The words we choose to describe things reveal our underlying bias. For example, "anti-abortion" versus "pro-choice" changes the hearer/reader perspective on the topic. We can create objective review of our bias to lessen its impact by word choice counts. This is the technique used by John Lott. Word counts in media reviews of bias are an important tool to quantify objectivity.

Clark's comments about different people/different things impacts reporting may be true in a limited application but its effect should diminish as the search is expanded. Congrats to John Lott in putting scientific analysis to the "hot potato" of media bias.

9/03/2008 10:48 AM  
Anonymous AnotherWatcher said...

Do you want to see press bias? Look at the 2 covers of US MAGAZINE shown on DRUDGE REPORT.

NOT BIASED? If you say no, I have some Carbon Credits to sell you.

Glad I found your site John. Welcome to Maryland, The Fee State, Land of Peasant Living.


9/03/2008 11:40 AM  
Blogger jhawktgh said...

I'm not sure who to address this message to:
How in the world do we the "Common" Middle Americans let the media writers, reporters,directors & publishers know we are sick and tired of their corrupt/tabloid style reporting? There are a growing majority of us that refuse to listen to, purchase, read or clean our dog kennels with their trash reporting.
We want fair reporting on all the candidates: Democrats, Independents, Libertarians and Republicans! Just give us the important issues and platforms, leave out the personal views and attitudes! FOX seems to be the only media around that presents fair views...they DON'T take sides, they let us make our own EDUCATED views. Thank you FOX News for not assuming everyone is ignorant and needs guidance. Are there any idea's out there that we can participate in to bring these bottom feeders (that have no respect for anyone but themselves and their "extreme views") to a state of unemployment? And lay off Sarah Palin, let her voice and record be heard not your biased static.
From the Heartland of America

9/03/2008 2:03 PM  
Anonymous Clark said...

Glen Greenwald, as usual, does a great job of scrutinizing the mainstream media's coverage of politics:

9/03/2008 9:04 PM  
Anonymous Clark said...

jhawktgh, You say, "FOX seems to be the only media around that presents fair views...they DON'T take sides"

Even Fox commentators admit that they are conservative. You are trying to make an argument that no one even at Fox seriously tries to make.

As for "liberal bias"? No, that's a dead issue. Sensational? Yes. Superficial? Yes. But liberal? NO. Even the Bush administration has admitted how easy it is to get their message, unfiltered in the media. Stephen Colbert got it dead right when he nailed the mainstream media for complacency and failure to challenge the establishment:


Sorry. "Liberal media" is a dead horse.

9/04/2008 12:31 AM  
Blogger OweMe1Cannoli said...

John and company - It seems your column has stirred up quite a lot of responses, which I see as a great thing. For too long people who know better kept their heads in the sand about the media's obvious liberal bias. I think McCain's surprise to the world in selecting Palin as his running mate stunned the media. So much so that their backlash makes this bias much easier to see. Finally, it may be out in the open enough so that people might see exactly who is driving the wedge betwen us.

9/04/2008 3:06 AM  
Blogger Markangelo said...

The scandal was forced on the public from the selfish choice of the candidates themselves.

The public & media acted with stunned
discontent over the Oprah vation
of the sacredness of the presidential

They are still sick from the stupid
Clintons & dont want anymore sex trash.

9/04/2008 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oh, thanks! Now I know where to come and get an unbiased story on politicians, especially Republicans.

9/05/2008 1:25 PM  

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