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.

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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.

[Clickworthy] The media scramble to report on Obamacare decision

“We’re not racing you”; in a decision this long and complicated, “no one will remember if you move this story first or we do,” but the “only thing anyone will ever remember is if we f*** it up.”

A lot happened in 15 minutes at the Supreme Court June 28. The Court issued its Opinion on the controversial Affordable Care Act, and reporters quickly attempted to boil it down to a simple yea or nay. Constitutional or not. Problem was, the opinion was lengthy, and the first two pages didn’t quite synch up with the remainder. I’ve already documented the flubs by CNN and Fox News, blowing the call in a (misguided, I would argue) attempt to be first.

Over the holiday, Tom Goldstein, the publisher of the now-on-the-radar SCOTUSblog, provided a behind the scenes glimpse at the chaos of those 15 minutes. In his account, we discover the struggle just to get access to the Opinion of the Court, how interpretive errors were made, and how even the White House couldn’t get a clear answer as to what had just happened.

The story is fascinating, and Goldstein’s critique of gathering and dissemination by various news outlets is balanced and wise – pretty good stuff from someone who reminds us at beginning and end that he is not a journalist. The only way we know it’s true? No true eyeball-seeking journalist would ever publish such a quality piece at 10 p.m. on a Saturday of a holiday weekend. Hat-tip to Jay Rosen at NYU for keeping the scanners on while we were barbequing.

CNN, others in media, blow Supreme Court decision on healthcare… So now can we get some responsiblity in reporting?

My television tuned to the network morning programs; my browser displayed a handful of news sites and Twitter. With breakfast in hand, I was in full breaking news mode Thursday morning, awaiting word of the Supreme Court’s opinion on the Affordable Care Act. More simply, healthcare reform; more partisan, Obamacare.

A few minutes after 9 a.m. central time, every major news network was on the air, trying to be the first to summarize the 193-page opinion. CNN, the former cable news king now in dire need of ratings, was the first major source to make a declaration. Individual mandate: Unconstitutional. Healthcare law: Thrown out. On-air, online, on social media, through email blast, CNN was ready to celebrate an all-out, multi-channel, breaking news of the year scoop!

Except they were wrong. A misreading of the opinion, they claimed.

Individual mandate: Constitutional. Healthcare law: Upheld.

Courtesy Gary He (http://twitter.com/garyhe)

CNN wasn’t alone (though they were certainly most prominent). Fox News displayed the incorrect opinion on a banner during their live television coverage. A number of Republican political figures jumped the gun in celebration. Others goofed. Read all about it.

It used to be that getting a scoop mattered. Beating a competitor by an entire day in a printed newspaper really meant something. But today, when information is disseminated over various channels within minutes (or seconds) of each other, does being first really mean that much? Is it worth being wrong? Ask CNN. Sure, the tagline could have read: “We get you the news 11 seconds before the other guys.” Enviable, to be sure. Instead, they made “The most trusted name in news” read like a relic from a time when their newsroom had some sense.

Continue reading “CNN, others in media, blow Supreme Court decision on healthcare… So now can we get some responsiblity in reporting?”

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.

Continue reading “Fox News makes an anti-Obama attack ad: How production value impacts perception”

[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.

If we stop hyperventilating for a moment, Obama/Boehner speech compromise works well for both

Ah, 24-hour news cycle, how you long for conflict. As we headed into Labor Day weekend, the politicos in Washington became enamored with “Speech-gate” – a supposedly heated back and forth between President Barack Obama and Speaker of the House John Boehner after Obama requested to speak before a joint session of Congress on Wednesday night. The problem was that the Republican Party had already scheduled a presidential debate for that evening, and Boehner added concern that the security measures needed to welcome a president to Capitol Hill were too lengthy to be completed in a small window between the end of scheduled business and the president’s address.

The cable news anchors salivated. Another epic battle between Democrat and Republican, President and Speaker! And then the fireworks really began…

The next day, Obama’s press secretary, Jay Carney, announced that the president would move his speech to Thursday night.

And everyone was cool with that.

Really.

Except that wasn’t the narrative the media were hoping for. So, the pontificates began pontificating. Karl Rove, in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, wrote of the president’s “humiliation” in having to move the speech. CNN contributor LZ Granderson blamed Boehner and the Right for “stop[ing] at nothing to discredit [Obama]. To embarrass him. To destroy him.” It goes on…

Never mind that Boehner and the Republicans have declined the now-customary official response following the president’s speech. Never mind that Obama almost immediately rescheduled the speech that was so surely intended to sabotage a GOP debate being held 15 months before the 2012 election. The narrative had to stand. Obama was weak. Boehner was pushy. The war rages on, if only on our television sets.

I feel like I’m the only person on Earth who thinks this worked out pretty darn well for the president. He respected the wishes of his political adversaries, and in doing so, positioned his speech before what will be the most watched television event of the week, if not the month. Instead of playing opening act to America’s Got Talent on Wednesday, the president will be the lead-in to the kickoff of the NFL season. Instead of giving way to juggling pole dancers and ventriloquists, Obama sets the stage for the return of the most popular sport in America.

Which one do you think is going to garner more incidental eyes?

NBC has shuffled its pregame schedule to make room for the address, moving musical performances and other festivities to USA, Syfy, and other channels in the NBCUniversal stable. Meanwhile, the president gets to talk about jobs, and then, being the sports-fan-in-chief he is, probably conclude with some well-rehearsed line about his Chicago Bears and how we all can’t wait to see some football.

The Republicans get their debate stage. The president gets a better television spot for his address than he had before. Everybody wins. Why can’t we just leave it at that?