TV News Political Bias Impact Ratings: January 16 – 20, 2012 (Revised)

Much debate has been devoted to assessing whether there is a liberal or conservative media bias (or as we prefer to call it, political news slant) in the U.S. Most tend to focus on the source of the bias, but our view is somewhat different. At Mediate Metrics, we prefer to quantify the amount of slant (bias plus editorial influence), combined with the quantity of slant recipients, to assess the full impact of media bias.

As presented in our November 15 post, total objectivity and fairness in the news is a virtual impossibility. Still, our hypothesis is that networks will be less biased when their reputation is built upon informing viewers and being an objective resource. In contrast, news outlets which rely on affirming the political preferences of their loyal viewers will have a natural tendency to be more slanted.

Building on our previous 2 posts, we have added a Political Slant “Impact” Rating comparison for January 16th to the 20th, depicted in Chart 3 below:

CHART 3: Slant Impact Rating - January 16 to 20

As in our other charts, content favoring the Republican party is represented in red (numerically positive), while that which leans towards the Democratic Party is shown in blue (numerically negative). We have graphically indicated depth-of-coverage, or lack thereof, by lightening those colors. For example, the bars representing NBC,CBS, and to a lesser degree Fox News and ABC, were purposely made lighter to reflect the relatively small transcript coverage for those particular networks. Regardless of coverage, the basic message depicted in Chart 3 is that the slant “foundation”, depicted at the base of each pyramid, is amplified by the number of people viewing the content. Table 3 below shows the numerical analysis supporting the chart:

TABLE 3: Political Slant Impact Measures - January 16 to 20, 2012

The Composite Weekday Slant Ratings in column 2, along with the number of statements classified in column 3, were derived from data previously discussed and shown here on Tuesday, January 31st. Statement coverage and “Confidence Factors” relate directly to the color shades in Chart 3. Most importantly, we have factored in viewership data for the networks and programs under review. This is where things get interesting, given that:

  • The nightly news programs from the major broadcast networks achieve the highest ratings per program by far, but their impact is mitigated by the fact that they are only broadcasted for 30 minutes a night;
  • By definition, the 3 top cable networks broadcast a continuous line-up of news shows, each of which is 60 minutes long, and representing as much as 420 minutes of programming/network for the nightly time period (5 PM to 11 PM) under consideration.
  • Public service programming, such as the Republican Presidential debates, was purposely omitted from our calculations since it does not reflect the editorial views (slant) of the network-or-program they were broadcast on.

Some compelling notions, however preliminary, can be drawn from this analysis. While the aggregate slant of content delivered during this time period appears to favor Democrats (as depicted in light blue in the “Totals” row), the aggregate impact tilts towards the GOP (as shown in the light red cell, same row).

Admittedly, our classifier and database need further refinement, but we think these initial results are rather intriguing. Still, we’d love to know what you think. Don’t hesitate to leave a comment below, or to send one directly to: barry@mediatemetrics.com.

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