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Covering the Conventions: Bias in Pre and Post-speech Media Commentary during the 2012 Presidential Nominating Conventions

aejmc

Presented August 10, 2013 at the annual conference of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC), Washington, D.C., Political Communication Interest Group.

This paper was previously presented at the 2013 AEJMC Southeast Colloquium in Tampa, Fla., where it received the Top Paper Award for the Electronic News Division. AEJMC permits re-submission of regional papers to the national conference.

To request the accompanying poster for this paper, email Dylan.

To read the abstract and request the full paper, go to the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

SYNOPSIS:

Party nominating conventions used to be messy and meaningful. Today, they’re more pomp and circumstance. It’s no wonder the broadcast television networks pay far less attention to them now than in decades past. For cable news, on the other hand, the conventions provide fuel – or at least a moving backdrop – to the 24-hour news cycle. And in the pauses between speakers, the talking heads weigh-in with their analysis.

There is a healthy amount of research suggesting that the party nominating conventions can influence voters, as well as a stack of studies that indicate media analysis of political events can influence voters. However, the specific cross-section between conventions and commentary has not been evaluated.

Does instant media commentary affect perceptions of convention speeches? This study lays the foundation for that investigation by looking at how favorably (or unfavorably) different news networks covered the 2012 Republican and Democratic national conventions.

We looked at a large sample of live convention coverage – all six nights of primetime (10 p.m. E.T.) on the three major broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) and cable (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) networks. Here’s what we learned:

  • Convention coverage was generally favorable to the host party.
  • Bias was indicated by an exaggeration of this positive commentary, and near absence of negative commentary (for instance, coverage of the DNC on MSNBC was 3% negative; the RNC on Fox News was only 2% negative). In other words, unbalanced coverage was not the result of tearing one side down, but by disproportionately praising the other.
  • The largest differences in valence were observed on Fox News & MSNBC, though some statistical tests revealed evidence of bias in traditional network broadcasts.

We look forward to enriching this study with further data from the content analysis, including potential explanatory mechanisms. Next, we desire to test the effects of such instant media commentary on the audience (presently in the data collection phase). We extend our thanks to the reviewers, moderator, and discussant for taking the time to read our paper and provide valuable feedback.

Covering the Conventions: Bias in Pre and Post-speech Media Commentary during the 2012 Presidential Nominating Conventions

aejmc USF

 

 

 

 

 

 

Presented March 1, 2013 at the AEJMC Southeast Colloquium, Tampa, Fla. Electronic News Division, Top Paper Award.

To request the accompanying PowerPoint, email Dylan.

To read the abstract and request the full paper, go to the Academia page on dylanmclemore.com.

SYNOPSIS:

Party nominating conventions used to be messy and meaningful. Today, they’re more pomp and circumstance. It’s no wonder the broadcast television networks pay far less attention to them now than in decades past. For cable news, on the other hand, the conventions provide fuel – or at least a moving backdrop – to the 24-hour news cycle. And in the pauses between speakers, the talking heads weigh-in with their analysis.

There is a healthy amount of research suggesting that the party nominating conventions can influence voters, as well as a stack of studies that indicate media analysis of political events can influence voters. However, the specific cross-section between conventions and commentary has not been evaluated.

Does instant media commentary affect perceptions of convention speeches? This study lays the foundation for that investigation by looking at how favorably (or unfavorably) different news networks covered the 2012 Republican and Democratic national conventions.

We looked at a large sample of live convention coverage – all six nights of primetime (10 p.m. E.T.) on the three major broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) and cable (CNN, Fox News, MSNBC) networks. Here’s what we learned:

  • Convention coverage was generally favorable to the host party.
  • Bias was indicated by an exaggeration of this positive commentary, and near absence of negative commentary (for instance, coverage of the DNC on MSNBC was 3% negative; the RNC on Fox News was only 2% negative). In other words, unbalanced coverage was not the result of tearing one side down, but by disproportionately praising the other.
  • The largest differences in valence were observed on Fox News & MSNBC, though some statistical tests revealed evidence of bias in traditional network broadcasts.

We look forward to enriching this study with further data from the content analysis, including potential explanatory mechanisms. Next, we desire to test the effects of such instant media commentary on the audience. We extend our thanks to the School of Mass Communications at the University of South Florida for hosting the event, and the paper judges for honoring us with the Top Paper Award in the Electronic News Division.

Fox News makes an anti-Obama attack ad: How production value impacts perception

Take a moment to watch this video:

Entitled “Four Years of Hope and Change,” you get dramatic visuals and music – a greatest hits of Barack Obama’s first term as president. Well, if you didn’t like the guy, anyway.

The facts seem to be fine from a cursory glance. It would be an excellent creation of the Romney campaign or some political action committee. Thing is, it wasn’t a creation of a blatant activist group. It was produced by Fox News and ran multiple times Wednesday on its morning infotainment program Fox & Friends.

Read the rest of this entry

[Clickworthy] Catering to the middle works, at least for Politico

Partisan news websites tend to attract similarly partisan audiences, according to a report released today by comScore (as reported by Poynter). Selective exposure is nothing new. However, one website in the study aims for the middle of the ideological continuum and hits it, with great traffic to boot.

The audience sample for Politico in February was 29% Democrat, 29% Republican, and 42% independent. The share of minutes spent on the site overwhelmingly belonged to independents (66%), while Democrats and Republicans again were evenly split (17% each).

The other sites in the study – a selection of left and right-leaning sources – failed to match Politico’s balance, and in most cases, its traffic.

The ones that did attract more visitors were two ideologically opposed news aggregators – The Huffington Post (the study measured only it’s Politics page) and Drudge Report – sites with a long lineage of selective linking to other people’s work. HuffPo produces at least some original content (they even nabbed a Pulitzer last month), but the vast majority of their work remains rewrites and reposts. Even moreso for Drudge.

The study is interesting because claiming the middle has recently been viewed as a losing fight. As American politics continue through a phase of increased division, partisan news organizations have seen the gains, while traditional institutions have seen audience share wilt away. When Fox News and its conservative slant captured a mammoth market share, MSNBC responded by acting as a liberal counterweight. CNN, on the other hand, determined that more success would be found in presenting a balanced look at the day’s events. CNN was dead wrong, and has gone from a close second to a distant third.

So it’s nice to see Politico performing well, particularly in the partisan pig slop that is the Internet. Perhaps it is a small sign that the tide is turning back to a desire for information over self-satisfying infotainment.

[Clickworthy] The Media Primary

We are still over a year from the 2012 presidential election, but, as the New York Times reported today, even primary debates are delivering large audiences to cable news networks. People are hungry for politics, and it seems like the Republican pool of candidates face off three times a week in an attempt to gain a few extra points before the Iowa Caucuses.

So how does the media coverage of the 2011 phase of the 2012 election look so far? The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism released a study this morning detailing tone and extent of coverage across multiple media from May 2 to October 9.

Look at the study and you will find all sorts of interesting nuggets. The central findings are as follows:

- The GOP candidates seem to be getting a pretty fair shake from the media in terms of tone of coverage. Newt Gingrich looks like the only current candidate who can claim he is being treated unfairly by the media [which he already does, with every other breath (Look at your watch. Now back at the screen. Newt just blamed the media for his poor poll numbers again.)].

- The candidates may be receiving similar coverage tone, but they are not receiving similar coverage. Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, and Michelle Bachmann have dominated the news cycle, leaving scraps for the remaining candidates (I’ve already discussed this phenomenon, and Ron Paul in particular, in an earlier post). The most striking part of this finding is that Perry, who has been covered more than any Republican candidate, didn’t even enter the race until August, which means he was absent for 3 of the 5+ months measured in the study. That’s some serious agenda-setting coverage.

- And finally, the finding that jumped out to me:

One man running for president has suffered the most unrelentingly negative treatment of all, the study found: Barack Obama. Though covered largely as president rather than a candidate, negative assessments of Obama have outweighed positive by a ratio of almost 4-1. Those assessments of the president have also been substantially more negative than positive every one of the 23 weeks studied. And in no week during these five months was more than 10% of the coverage about the president positive in tone.

 

Clearly, the positive coverage Candidate Obama received in 2008 has dissolved over almost three years in office. If the media reflects public opinion (which is my interpretation of this relationship) and voters feel the same way, things don’t look good for a second term.

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