FOX and MSNBC News: Messages in the Clouds
As a follow-up to yesterday’s blog post, I have color-coded related words in the tag clouds built from recent Fox and MSNBC news transcripts. At first glance, certain words seemed obviously related in terms of the topics and message points referenced. Further scrutiny taught me that some of the tag word connections to be weak or non-existent, demonstrating the danger of using tag cloud analysis too liberally. Still, I found common themes and clear distinctions between these popular interpretive news outlets.
My analysis is as follows:
- REPUBLICAN, PRESIDENTIAL, CAMPAIGN, and PRIMARIES – Clearly, the Republican Presidential primaries are a topic of import and interest. As such, they are worthy of extensive coverage by any objective standard.
- “Clusivity.” In linguistics, clusivity is a distinction between inclusive and exclusive first-person pronouns. My slightly-altered definition includes any pronouns that indicate that one group is favored, and another is viewed with disfavor. It also encompasses “pronoun putdowns” — instances where a person of well-known rank and title (such as “The President”) is referred to simply as HE. In general, I viewed this as creating a subtle form of clusivity. In the Fox aggregate transcript, HE’S occurred 164 times, and often referred to President Obama or some other member of the Democratic Party. THEY’RE appeared as a more general reference to the Democratic party.
- OBAMA/OBAMA’S/PRESIDENT/WASHINGTON – When not attributed to a direct quote or video clip from the President, these terms were often used in the same context as HE’S or THEY’RE. In this, as well as the clusivity category mentioned above, it was particularly telling when the show’s anchor uses this type of reference.
- PEOPLE occurred 236 times, and was used in many contexts. As a tag word indication of thematic emphasis, it should probably be removed from the cloud.
- DON’T (261 occurrences). DOESN’T (67 Occurrences), and ISN’T (33 occurrences) – Scanning the transcripts, you see these kind of “not” words used in 2 distinct contexts: 1.) Distancing – “I don’t know …” or “We don’t believe …” and; 2.) Negative labeling – “They don’t <something accusatory>. As I reviewed the transcripts, it appeared that “they” and “don’t” often appeared together in the same statement. In fairness, though, that connection is worthy of systematic analysis.
- Republican campaign coverage was substantial, as indicated by the extensive occurrence of terms like PRESIDENTIAL, CANDIDATE, CAIN, PERRY, and ROMNEY.
- Evidence of clusivity was more subtle and complex, but present nonetheless. MSNBC’s version was wrapped around the terms AMERICA (150 occurrences), AMERICAN (250 occurrences), AMERICANS (158 occurrences), and to a lesser degree MIDDLE (98 occurrences) and CLASS (123 occurrences). I don’t claim to be a trained linguist, but the visual association that the tag cloud suggests is that MSNBC represents the best interests of: a.) America; b.) middle-class Americans, and; c.) the American way of life.
- Related to MSNBC’s clusivity messaging, there was an undercurrent of RICH (93 occurrences) being used as a negative. Scanning the transcripts, I repeatedly came across statements like, “Republicans favor the rich” and “the rich get richer.” Similarly, terms like TAX and TAXES (216 and 100 occurrences respectively) also seemed to be part of MSNBC’s clusivity strategy. Like Fox’s use of HE’S and THEY’RE, MSNBC’s thematic position appears to be, “Those Republicans favor the rich, and their tax situation is better than ours.”
- Like the use of WASHINGTON by Fox, MSNBC’s use of HOUSE (83 occurrences) was generally used as a reference to the Republican-led House of Representatives, and was often wielded in a less-than-positive manner.
- DON’T and DOESN’T were both regularly used for distancing and negative labeling, similar to how they were used by Fox.
Not to beat this horse into glue, but I’m planning to add one more tag word blog post that removes words that are common to both clouds, and portrays the remaining top 50 terms that are unique to each channel. Like all of these exercises, the output is both subtle and revealing