Sunday morning talk shows and portrayals of public opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign

The 2016 presidential campaign has been unique thus far, to say the least. It makes the 2012 cycle look downright boring. Yet, one aspect of the 2012 campaign that stood out to me was the use of public opinion polling by media to frame the race.

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This paper was presented August 7, 2016 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Annual Conference in Minneapolis, Minn. An early version was presented February 27, 2016 at the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication Midwinter Conference in Norman, Okla.

The 2016 presidential campaign has been unique thus far, to say the least. It makes the 2012 cycle look downright boring. Yet, one aspect of the 2012 campaign that stood out to me was the use of public opinion polling by media to frame the race. Leading up to Election Day, it seemed pretty clear that President Obama would have the electoral votes to win a second term. Election forecasting guru Nate Silver thought so, and most polling data agreed.

However, a completely different picture was painted in conservative media – at least in a few anecdotal instances. Fox News contributor Dick Morris infamously predicted a “landslide” victory for Mitt Romney, while Karl Rove’s refusal to accept Obama’s victory-sealing win in Ohio made for awkward Election Night coverage for the cable news ratings leader. Both had evidence on their side – poll numbers that made it look like Romney was indeed going to win Ohio and the White House. But those polls were in the minority, and they were wrong.

This matters. Previous research suggests that publishing of public opinion polls can actually influence public opinion, and eventually, voting. To be fair, these findings have always been tough to untangle. Does a poll showing a candidate with a big lead create a bandwagon effect where everyone wants to vote for the inevitable winner, or does it spur an underdog effect in which the losing candidate’s supporters mobilize to close the gap? Does depicting a close race boost turnout, while voters skip out on a projected blowout? There’s evidence of all of these. Continue reading “Sunday morning talk shows and portrayals of public opinion during the 2012 presidential campaign”

What was Clickworthy in 2013: The Boston Marathon Bombing

As runners crossed the finish line at the Boston Marathon, bombs detonated, killing three and wounding 264. Days later, a shootout between the suspects and police led to a daylong manhunt that shut down an entire metropolis. The circumstances were horrific, but there was little doubt that the events of that week in Boston were the most interesting of 2013 to those of us who observe the news media in action.

I Tweeted extensively that week, and have compiled them in a Storify which you can view here. Focusing on the role of the media in the story, it captures the pace well, I think.

bostonstorify

That week, we saw news organizations at their best and worst. NBC News (Pete Williams in particular) and the staff at the Boston Globe were roundly praised for being both timely and accurate. Local broadcast affiliates were tremendous, and their streaming platforms withstood heavy demand better than perhaps any event to date. Others, led by television’s go-to breaking news source, stumbled. Media critics on the coverage, and CNN’s awful performance. (David Zurawik, The Baltimore Sun) (David Carr, The New York Times)

What to say of the new players in breaking news? A lengthy but excellent read on how Reddit, Twitter, and other social media broke news, both real and imagined. (Jay Caspian Kang, New York Times Magazine)

And then there was the New York Post’s infamous (and probably libelous) post-bombing cover. (Andrew Beaujon, Poynter)

RELATED: Rolling Stone wins the most controversial magazine cover of the year, with this glamour shot of alleged Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. (From DylanMcLemore.com)

But are we being to hard on the press scrambling for information in the moment? What it’s like for reporters who are trying to cover a manhunt. (Brian Stelter, The New York Times)

We would later learn much more about the Tsarnaev brothers, thanks to a Boston Globe investigation published at the end of the year.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t share what was perhaps the finest contribution of the press to its public. One day after the bombing, a Boston Globe columnist wrote for an entire city. Beautiful and heartbreaking. (Kevin Cullen, The Boston Globe)

What Was Clickworthy in 2013
Feature: Surveillance, Snowden, and the Press

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.

Tape delays, Twitter and #NBCfail: Olympic coverage in a media-saturated world

Tuesday was one of the greatest days in U.S. Olympic history. After early struggles in the pool, Michael Phelps and his American teammates captured gold in the 200-meter freestyle relay. It was Phelps’s second medal of the day and his 19th overall, making him the most decorated Olympian ever.

Across the Olympic Park, the U.S. women’s gymnastics team took home gold for the first time since Kerri Strugg and the 1996 Atlanta squad. This 2012 team is better, say those who know something about gymnastics.

Gold in premiere sports, drawing even with the Chinese atop the overall medal count – it was a banner day for the Stars and Stripes.

But as I write this Tuesday evening, Americans are the only people in the first world who haven’t seen any of it happen.

Don’t worry, though, it’s 7 o’clock. NBC is pushing play on the VCR right about now.

Continue reading “Tape delays, Twitter and #NBCfail: Olympic coverage in a media-saturated world”

[Clickworthy] How the media may have already doomed Jerry Sandusky

Diogenes would have an easier time finding an honest man than one who honestly presumes that Jerry Sandusky is innocent. In part, after his shockingly incriminating interview with NBC, Sandusky has himself and his lawyer to blame for widespread presumptions of his guilt. But before he ever sat for the interview, the former assistant football coach had been convicted in the press.

With the end of the semester approaching, I haven’t had enough time to blog lately. If I had, this is largely what I would have written. Wendy Kaminer’s piece on The Atlantic today highlights what happens when the world of sports journalism collides with a story far beyond the scope of sport.

I’m not one to demean sports journalists. After all, my out-of-class alter ego is a sports broadcaster. They are great at what they do, and what they do is far more than telling stories about brawny guys smashing into each other or trying to hit a ball with a stick.

But the Jerry Sandusky story is not what sports journalists do. When the narrative moves off the football field and into the courtroom; when people charged with, but not convicted of, crimes await their fair trial… sports journalists aren’t the best to preserve due process.

Bob Costas would be the exception. His phone interview with Sandusky – a remarkably ill-advised move by the former Penn State Defensive Coordinator – was as uncomfortable as it gets. And, let’s face it, Sandusky did not portray himself in a good light at all. Still, Costas never broke. He never made it sound as if Sandusky was already guilty; his facial expressions didn’t even hint at condemnation or disbelief.

His colleagues have not performed as admirably, which Kaminer highlights in the article. I listen to the Dan Patrick radio show most days at work. Patrick, an Emmy-award-winning sports journalist who is as careful and slow to judgment as they come, has called Sandusky every name in the book, and suggests his guilt almost every hour. Patrick had Costas on his show the day after the phone interview, desiring to know how Costas really felt about Sandusky. Costas responded that he “Probably shouldn’t say. It’s a story I, and perhaps you, will be covering in an ongoing way.”

Patrick, like so many other people – never mind journalists – are emotionally impacted by this story. The accusations are graphic and sickening. The kinds of things that cause otherwise mild-mannered men to respond viscerally. We want Sandusky to pay. Except he hasn’t gone to trial. For all we know, he could be exonerated. Not that anyone would notice…

We have a special hate toward those who sexually abuse children, as we should. But we cannot go all Nancy Grace Mode and convict them in the press. What newspaper columns and talk radio shows and television programs around the country have done in the past week violate journalistic integrity and responsibility. Sandusky might turn out to be as guilty as the world thinks he is. But in our democracy, judge and jury convict, not some yahoo with a hot microphone and a hot temper.

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?