The good folks at the Project for Excellence in Journalism are constantly doing evaluations of news coverage, and one of the things they determine is how favorable or unfavorable coverage is to various political figures. Their latest report has some interesting findings. Rick Perry started off getting enormously positive coverage, but that changed after his poor performance in debates. Here's the interesting part:
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.
Is this going to lead conservative media critics to abandon their assertion that the media have a liberal bias and are obviously in Obama's pocket? Of course not. What they'll surely say is that Obama got bad coverage because the economy is bad; in other words, it was events that drove coverage, not reporters' secret feelings. They were just describing the world as it is, so they weren't demonstrating anti-Obama bias. Of course, if the economy were going gangbusters and Obama's coverage was positive, conservative media critics would say precisely the opposite -- that events were not driving coverage, but instead it was reporters' pro-Obama bias that determined the tone of the news.
It would be nice if we had put the debate about "liberal bias" in the news to bed a long time ago, but of course we haven't. The truth is this: The news is full of biases, but ideological bias, as in reporters secretly injecting their personal beliefs about what policies or politicians ought to succeed into their reporting, is among the least consequential. Yes, it can happen at some times and in some outlets. But when you hear someone squawking about it, ask what they say when the news look more favorable to their side. Then you'll be able to tell whether their claims have any merit.
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