Tag Archives: campaign

LIBERAL MEDIA BIAS?: Impact Report #2 Provides the Answer(s)

Is there a liberal bias (or as we prefer to call it, political news slant) in the U.S media? It depends largely on which news content you think matters most.

Based on the data we currently have under analysis, early indications are that the leading broadcast and cable new outlets lean towards the Democratic party. With that said, the recently released Pew Research Center News Interest Index indicates that more people are now turning to cable news for information about the 2012 presidential campaign than to other forms of media. Adjusting for their findings yields an entirely different result.

For Impact Report #2,  we have quantified the amount of network slant (aggregate speaker bias plus editorial influence) and combined it with viewership data in order to assess the total “Impact.” In this installment, we have computed the weighted-average Impact Rating for each network during the weeks of January 16th and January 23rd, focused on their evening/weekday news programming. The results are depicted below:

Aggregate Slant Impact: Weekdays - January 16 to 17

Aggregate Slant Impact: Weekdays - January 16 to 27

As in all of our charts, content favoring the Republican party is represented in red (greater than zero), while that which leans towards the Democratic Party is shown in blue (less than zero). We have indicated depth-of-coverage by lightening the base colors as required. For example, the bases representing NBC,CBS, and to a lesser degree Fox News, were purposely made lighter to reflect the limited transcript coverage for those particular networks. Regardless, the basic message depicted in chart above is that the slant rating base is amplified by the number of people viewing the content. The table below shows the numerical analysis supporting the chart:

The Cumulative Slant Ratings  in column 2 were derived from data previously discussed and shown at this site on Wednesday, February 8th. We have also factored in viewership data for the networks and programs under review. As you can see, the cumulative rating for this report — across all networks and programs we are studying —  slightly favors Democrats/Liberals, as indicated by the numbers highlighted in light blue.

If, however, we account for the Pew Research data, which states that 36% of people regularly go to cable networks to learn about Presidential campaigns (and, we presume, national political news in general) versus only 26% turning to national nightly news programs, our cumulative results shift in favor of Republican/conservative interests (as highlighted in light red).

Liberal or conservative media bias? It all depends on whose news one views.

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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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TV News Political Slant Report by Network: 1/16 – 1/20

Welcome to the Mediate Metrics inaugural TV news political slant measurement report, based on our version 1.0 text classifier.

To our knowledge, this is the first objective TV news slant rating service ever published. Slant, by our definition, is news containing an embedded statement of bias (opinion) OR an element of editorial influence (factual content that reflects positively or negatively on a particular U.S. political party). This initial report focuses specifically on evaluating  slant contained in the weekday transcripts of  the national nightly news programs on the 3 major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) , as well as programming aired from 5 PM until 11 PM eastern time on top 3 cable news channels (CNN, Fox, and MSNBC). At this stage, analytical coverage varies by network, program, and date, but our intention is to fill in the blanks over time.

CHART 1: Slant by Network - January 16 to January 20, 2012

In keeping with U.S. political tradition, content favoring the Republican party in Chart 1 is portrayed in red (positive numbers), while content that tilts towards the Democratic Party is shown in blue (negative numbers)

To grossly over-simplify, the numerical slant ratings supporting the Chart 1 emanate from a custom text analysis “classifier,” built to extract statements of political slant from TV news transcripts. (For more on the underlying technology, see our post on Text Analytics Basics at http://wp.me/p1MQsU-at.) We have trained our classifier to interpret slant quite conservatively, conforming to strict guidelines for the sake of consistency and objectivity. As such, the ratings we present may be perceived as under-reporting the absolute slant of the actual content under review, but the appropriate way to view our ratings is as relative to similar programming.

As mentioned, our analytical coverage varies by network, program, and date. Correspondingly, our rating confidence is directly proportional to the amount of transcript text available for classification.The exact amount of coverage per network is shown in the table to the right, but we have graphically indicated depth-of-coverage in Chart 1 by way of color shading. For example, the bars representing the slant ratings for both NBC and CBS were purposely made lighter to reflect the relatively small transcript coverage for those particular networks.

During development, we determined that the Republican presidential primaries are an enterprise for which scrutiny is a normal-and-valuable part of the vetting process.  Related news content, however, tends to be disproportionately negative, and often times does not contain a clear inter-party comparison — an element we view as a crucial condition for the evaluation of political slant. With those factors mind, we have partitioned statements about the Republican Presidential primaries, and have excluded them from most slant ratings at this juncture. Similarly, the Republican Presidential debates and other such dedicated program segments have been excluded in their entirety from classification since they do not reflect the political positions of the networks, programs, or contributors under a consideration.

We’ll publish slant ratings by program for the same January 16 – 20 time period tomorrow.

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White Paper Excerpt: “Bias and Objectivity in the News Media”

I remain convinced that one can measure media bias electronically, at least to some extent, by examining the text of news broadcasts and objectively identifying the speaker’s personal value judgments. With that said, it is far more difficult to extract bias based on that content that is chosen to be aired. The following excerpt, taken from a 2004 white paper published by The Foundation for Critical Thinking titled, “How to Detect Media Bias and Propaganda” by Dr. Richard Paul and Dr. Linda Elder, explains this far more eloquently than I ever could.



The logic of constructing news stories is parallel to the logic of writing history. In both cases, for events covered, there is both a massive background of facts and a highly restricted amount of space to devote to those facts. The result in both cases is the same: 99.99999% of the “facts” are never mentioned at all (see Figure 1).


If objectivity or fairness in the construction of news stories is thought of as equivalent to presenting all the facts and only the facts (“All the news that’s fit to print”), objectivity and fairness is an illusion. No human knows more than a small percentage of the facts and it is not possible to present all the facts (even if one did know them). It isn’t even possible to present all the important facts, for many criteria compete for determining what is “important.” We must therefore always ask, “What has been left out of this article?” “What would I think if different facts had been highlighted here?” “What if this article had been written by those who hold a point of view opposite to the one embedded in the story as told?”


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Who’s News? YOU Decide.

The more I study media bias, the more I realize that TV coverage flows (and often overflows) in certain directions because viewers vote with their eyeballs.

The blogosphere is crackling today with reports on the CBS internal memo which directed their debate moderators to devote fewer questions to Michelle Bachmann. The issue certainly has ignited the fanaterati. Don’t get me wrong; editorial selection bias is a very real phenomenon. Still, a thinking person should consider other possibilities.

So here is one: Perhaps we get a disproportionate amount of coverage on certain issues and people because they drive viewership. Combined with the extensive amount of news capacity that needs to be filled, media outlets are motivated to keep popular stories alive because lots of people are following them. As an unfortunate by-product, reporters and commentators fan the  flames over time by digging up all kinds of corner-cases, then sensationalizing them as “New Developments!” And that’s when we enter the realm of the absurd.

Circling back to the issue du jour, giving Michelle Bachmann more debate time does not make sense for the network in that context. It’s an inexact science, but it is a network executive’s job is to promote viewership … which drives ad revenue …which increases company profits, equity value, and personal paychecks.

It’s tempting to see a conspiracy here, and maybe there is one, but I think it is equally possible that this is just capitalism in action.

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Detecting Media Bias: Tag Clouds for Fox News and MSNBC

As an experiment, I decided to create tag clouds of the aggregated news transcripts from both Fox and MSNBC — obtained from the LexisNexis database, covering from October 20th to the 28th — just to see if any themes emerged.

Fox Tag Cloud

MSNBC Tag Cloud

I’ll follow this posting up in the next few days with my observations, but I’d like to get insights from others before offering up my own.

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Media Bias Measurement – Prelude

Have you noticed that political news is more about spin and emotional-triggering than facts and fairness?

Me too.

For years, I’ve been troubled by political news bias. Having worked briefly at a media measurement company, I began to wonder whether bias could be measured. I scoured the internet, looking for a method-or-model for quantitatively dimensioning bias. I could find none, so I developed my own.

While I believe that the core system is sound, further development is dependent on the input and guidance of others. If nothing else, I hope to learn from the process, and share that learning as broadly as possible.

Please visit this site again soon. It is obviously under construction, but I will be posting surveys in the coming days and weeks, based on transcripts of popular news programs, that will desperately need respondents. All data will be aggregated and anonymized. Your privacy will be diligently protected.

If nothing else, this will be an interesting experiment. But if this works, we might change the media landscape.

Go big or go home, right?

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