Does media bias exist against Ron Paul, for Romney, and for Obama? My response to Beer Barrel Politics:

Today another political blog called Beer Barrel Politics posted a graph and short reflection about the Media “Bias” in politics. I enjoy reading their posts and though it would be interesting, but their take on this troubled me simply because the way they interpreted that graph is part of the problem with our country right now. We like to jump to snap conclusions based off very little information or just enough information to agree with what we want to believe regardless of what more adequate information would actually show us. You can view their post and graph here: http://beerbarrelpolitics.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/media-bias-in-one-chart .

The quote that they summed up their graph with was:

“Here are some common perceptions that this graph dispels:

1) Ron Paul gets abused by the media, is treated unfairly, and does not get the respect he deserves.

2) The media loves establishment politicians like Romney.

3) Back Obama is beloved by the media, and gets disproportionately positive coverage.”

This graph is interesting, but it doesn’t dispel any of those perceptions simply because the sample size is far too small to claim those perceptions are false or unreasonable. One week of coverage is not nearly enough to claim people that believe any of those perceptions are wrong. I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with any of those perceptions, but let me give three quick reasons you don’t address with a one-week graph that those things might be true:

1– Ron Paul has received much more positive coverage in the last few weeks since his strong showings in Iowa and New Hampshire than I’ve ever heard before. However, I, like many others, have heard him repeatedly dismissed as a “fringe” candidate and “unelectable” by a variety of political media pundits.I was actually a Paul supporter back in the 08 primaries and all I heard from the pundits and anchors back then was how he wasn’t a realistic candidate, if they remembered to mention him at all. Being ignored totally in a process where name recognition is so crucial could certainly be considered negative by some people. In fact, until recently, was notorious for being ignored at debates. I think a graph showing the amount of time each candidate spoke at a debate, or the number of questions they were asked, would be more relevant to the Ron Paul perception, otherwise you need data going back pre-2008 showing the same information.

2– During the last couple weeks the Bain Capital stories and issues about Romney’s taxes have been hot topics, so of course the press about him is mostly negative recently. That doesn’t mean it always has been. Romney has long been viewed as the “inevitable” candidate by the media due to his resources and name recognition, and I find it hard to believe that having almost all of the media calling you the likely nominee and talking about your future campaign against Barack Obama like the primaries have already been decided isn’t positive coverage. Based off what I’ve seen about Romney in the press over the last several months, the media has spent a lot more time talking about the strength of his campaign than they have criticizing it. Having major news networks proclaiming you the likely/probable/inevitable/etc. nominee is certainly good news for your campaign (although the Romney camp has done a very poor job at capitalizing off of that), but more importantly it is bad news for all the other candidates who then have to spend time proving they’re still competitive to undecided voters. Causing his opponents to have to spend extra time and resources explaining how well they’ve actually been doing in the polls compared to Romney and trying to tear down that aura of inevitability surrounding his campaign is certainly a good thing for Romney, regardless of whether you consider that positive coverage or not. That doesn’t mean they “love establishment politicians”, but it does seem to indicate they don’t find a lot to criticize about Romney himself that they can turn into media friendly soundbites.

3– For your Obama perception you would need media coverage that covers the last four years. President Obama’s level of media appeal and charisma have been declining pretty much since he took office and as such the media has much less incentive to talk about him in a positive light. With his current approval ratings and an upcoming election, I wouldn’t expect there to be a lot of positive press for Obama this year, but that doesn’t mean you’re correct in saying that the perception that the media likes Barack Obama is false, just that the energy, passion, and rhetoric the media seemed to like so much in 2008 is gone and as such they don’t spend time talking about it. I don’t know if the media is pro-Obama or not, but I think that he’s going to have a much harder time in 2012 campaigning on warm fuzzy feelings and completely abstract (and I’d argue mostly empty) promises of “hope” and “change” when the media has spent the last few years reminding Americans how bad the economy is and running stories about his promises that didn’t happen or didn’t work like he’d hoped they would. I think the media will actually be a stumbling block to his reelection campaign, but that has more to do with current events than the way they have portrayed him in the past. There’s simply not enough information in the graph to have any influence on that perception.

The bottom line is this: I don’t have the necessary data to go through and counter your graph or I would out of curiosity, but a graph covering six days of data has little to no bearing on any of those perceptions. If you visited Little Rock this past week and saw it was in the 50s and 60s all week, you might say “Well that just dispels the perception that it actually gets cold in the winter down here.” and although your observation is true for this tiny window of time, it’s certainly false overall. I appreciate the time you put into your posts and the graphs are always fun, but making blanket statements based off too little data never leads to good results. You may think those perceptions are illogical, but your attempt to dispel them is equally so. You can’t put sanity back into politics without being informed, and you just don’t have enough information here to tell all these other people they’re wrong.

-M

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3 Comments

Filed under 2012 Election, Bain Capital, Barack Obama, Candidate, GOP, Paul, Politics, President, Romney, Ron Paul

3 responses to “Does media bias exist against Ron Paul, for Romney, and for Obama? My response to Beer Barrel Politics:

  1. The narrow and rather simple purpose of the post was to introduce information that calls into question commonly held beliefs about the nature of media coverage as it pertains to different political figures. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    That said, I would point you to this data — http://www.journalism.org/analysis_report/media_primary — which has a much larger sample size and still supporters my assertions that; (A) Paul’s coverage is not overwhelmingly bad, (B) Romney’s coverage is not significantly different from his competitors, and (C) Obama’s coverage is by no means disproportionately positive.

    Thanks for swinging by the blog. If you think I have not gone into sufficient depth in the future, feel free to let me know.

    • Thanks for taking time to read my response. I looked through your link and surprisingly I recognized it from a similar October article I read about press coverage of the candidates. The problem still exists- the sample size is too recent, and too small. That article, although drawing from a larger data set, still only takes into account things that have been said since the 2012 campaign season got going, which only takes into account a tiny fraction of the coverage Ron Paul, Mitt Romney, and President Obama have received since all of them were also involved in the 2008 elections. The other reason I could point out that the sample size with even the longer article from Journalism.org is too small to be relevant is to consider how rapidly things changed from when those stats were compiled. Rick Perry certainly wasn’t enjoying predominantly positive coverage in the last two months (I’d argue that’s not the media’s fault, we all saw those debates), and Herman Cain’s extra-marital allegations were a favorite topic for weeks on TV news shows. It’s not your fault, or their fault, that things change rapidly in media coverage, but it’s that rapid change that makes a one week or even an eleven week set of data mostly worthless overall. Like I said, I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with the perceptions you’re questioning, but I can understand the frustration of the Ron Paul supporters or those that take issue with some of the coverage about Romney or Obama when they look at these articles and realize they’re just a tiny snapshot in time, not an overall trend.

      I’m sure I’ll keep dropping by (and I promise not to complain about all your articles) I really enjoy reading your posts!
      -Matt

  2. I understand your dissatisfaction with the finite nature of the collected data.

    Keep in mind I am making a positive argument and not a normative one.The picture painted by the actual data concerning how the media has covered these candidates since May is clear.

    Obviously parsing the significance of the data would require nuanced and in depth analysis . However, its value as evidence that the observations often propagated by vested interests — Republicans who think Obama’s coverage is too kind and Paul supporters think Paul’s coverage is unduly negative — are objectively false to the degree that it pertains to this election cycle cannot be overstated.

    Media bias is real, but it is important to distinguish between true biases and perceived biases.

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