Is the media biased?

Claims of media bias increase during presidential elections, and the 2008 election is no exception.  The stories that a news organization choose to cover is one form of bias.  The difficulty with assessing such bias is having knowledge of what stories were not covered.  Tim Groeling designed a simple study whose results are published in the December issue of the Presidential Studies Quarterly.

Groeling determined the percentage of in-house presidential approval polls that were aired by network news programs relative to the number of polls that were conducted by the major networks.  The study spanned an 11 year period ending in February 2008.   ABC, CBS, and NBC were found to have a democratic bias while Fox News was found to have a significant pro-Republican bias.

 For example, CBS was 35% less likely to report a five-point approval rating drop for Bill Clinton than an increase and 33% more likely to report a five-point drop for Bush than an increase.  Fox News Special Report, on the other hand, was 67% less likely to report a five-point drop for Bush than an increase while  being 36% more likely to report a 5-point rise for Bush than a 5-point decrease.

Robert Lichter of the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University did a content analysis of the media which showed that 72% of statements in TV news reports about Obama in late spring and early summer were negative, compared with 57% being negative about McCain.    Bill O’Reilly of Fox News attacked this study.  Lichter points out that Fox News embraces only those studies conducted by Lichter that support the liberal bias in the media.  This is a great example of confirmation bias — where the human mind conveniently chooses to embrace only the evidence that supports its beliefs.

It is clear that Obama got more press than McCain, and one may argue that Palin got a disproportionate share of negative coverage.  However, I personally felt it more interesting to watch history being made with the first black man to make it to the White House than the same old republican rhetoric.  And, I must admit it was fun watching Tina Fey’s impersonation of Palin.  Based on ratings, I was not alone.

 In the end, the media gives consumers what they want.  To use a conservative argument to which I subscribe, the market decides what the people want.  If consumers demand more coverage of the conservative viewpoint, an entrepreneur would happily to fill void.  So far there is only one Fox News Network.  Perhaps there will be more conservative outlets in the future.

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