Tag Archives: media

FLASH REPORT: Political Slant Ratings by Show – 1/30 to 2/3

Our latest TV News measurement metrics, targeting individual programs aired by the 3 major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and the top 3 cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC), is fairly consistent with our previous studies.  As has been our pattern, we have limited our focus shows airing from 5 PM until 11 PM eastern time, Monday through Friday. Because of that, transcript coverage is less than normal since Florida primary coverage preempted several regular programs under study.

It’s worth noting that, particularly in the case of CNN, those special programs garnered Nielsen ratings of roughly twice the average of the programs they replaced (Erin Burnett Outfront & Anderson Cooper 360). For those who wonder why the media is obsessively covering the Republican primaries, your answer lies there.

CHART 1: Slant Rating by Show - January 30 to February 3

As always, content with a numerical rating above zero indicates a Republican slant, with ratings below zero representing a Democratic slant. In this case, however, those shows which are in the +2.0 to -2.0 range are shown in gray, indicating that they are in the “balanced” news category. The one notable exclusion this week is CBS Evening News, but our content coverage for it was exceptionally light. Red remains the color indicator for “slanted” news which favors the Republican party, while slanted content that favors towards the Democratic party is shown in blue. Those interested in the underpinnings of the Mediate Metrics slant rating system should review our January 31st post, or see our primer on Text Analytics Basics at: http://wp.me/p1MQsU-at.

Since our analytical coverage varies by program and date, so does our confidence in the associated show ratings. The exact amount of program coverage is shown in the Table 1 below, but we have graphically indicated depth-of-coverage by way of color shading in Chart 1. For example, the cones representing CBS Evening News, Special Report (Fox), and NBC Nightly News were purposely made lighter to reflect the relatively small transcript coverage for those particular show. We should also note that our version 1.4 classifier did exhibit some anomalies that caused our NBC Nightly News ratings to be disproportionately skewed towards favoring Republicans.

TABLE 1: Slant Rating by Show - January 30 to February 3

Further information about our rating system can be found in previous posts, or by contacting us via email at: barry@mediatemetrics.com

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TREND REPORT #1: Political Bias by TV Network

The chart at right summarizes the slant ratings for the networks we have thus far analyzed in January. Our previously published Flash Reports are useful snap shots, but the trend analysis better portrays the long-term political orientation of the networks, programs, and time periods we are studying.

The lines and markers in our graph represent the high/low/weighted average slant ratings for each network in our previous 2 weeks of analysis. Even with this relatively small data set, trends are beginning to emerge.

ABC has operated within a very tight range, as had CNN, indicating that they are quite purposeful about their political orientations — and none too slanted, either.

CBS and (especially) NBC have favored different parties each week, but our analytical databases are the lightest for those 2 networks. Their weighted averages currently favor the Democratic party (depicted in blue. with numerical ratings less than zero), but time will tell where they each level out at.

Not surprisingly, Fox News and MSNBC both show the largest partisan bias. Since Fox’s evening line-up does contain some “balanced” news programming (such as “Special Report with Bret Baier” and “The Fox Report with Shepard Smith”), the fact that their relative weighted slant rating is lower than MSNBC’s comes as no surprise. At some point, we may analyze the balanced news program category by itself to see how political messaging is interwoven within it.

Tomorrow, we will use this data as the basis for our weekly Impact Report to quantify the combined effects of bias and reach. As mentioned in previous posts, bias is not by itself determined by the number of media outlets delivering a slanted message. Rather, it is akin to the advertising concept of share of voice, in which the number of  ad impressions is combined with the total available inventory, as well as the size of the audience that is receiving it.

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FLASH REPORT: Political Slant by Show – 1/23 to 1/27

Building on our previous post, today we our publishing a separate version of our TV news measurement metrics which focuses on the political slant of individual programs aired by the 3 major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC) and the top 3 cable news channels (CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC), based on our enhanced 1.2 classifier. The analysis is focused on shows airing from 5 PM until 11 PM eastern time, Monday through Friday.

CHART 2: Slant Rating by Show - January 23 to 27

We’ve constructed this chart slightly differently than in the past. As always, content with a numerical rating above zero indicates a Republican slant, with ratings below zero representing a Democratic slant. In this case, however, those shows which are in the +2.0 to -2.0 range are shown in gray, indicating that they are in the “balanced” news category. The one notable exclusion this week is NBC Nightly News, but our content coverage for it was exceptionally light. Red remains the color indicator for “slanted” news which favors the Republican party, while slanted content that favors towards the Democratic Party is shown in blue. Those interested in the underpinnings of the Mediate Metrics slant rating system should review our January 31st post, or see our primer on Text Analytics Basics at: http://wp.me/p1MQsU-at.

Since our analytical coverage varies by program and date, so does our confidence in the associated show ratings. The exact amount of program coverage is shown in the Table 2 below, but we have graphically indicated depth-of-coverage by way of color shading in Chart 2. For example, the cones representing CBS Evening News, Special Report (Fox), and NBC Nightly News were purposely made lighter to reflect the relatively small transcript coverage for those particular show.

TABLE 2: Political Slant by Show - 1/23 to 27

Further information about our rating system can be found in previous posts, or by contacting us via email at: barry@mediatemetrics.com

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FLASH REPORT: Media Bias by Network – 1/23 to 1/27

Week 2 of our media bias/slant ratings, based on our new-and-improved version 1.2 classifier,  shows some consistencies and variances from our 1/16 – 20 report of last week.

CHART 1: Slant Ratings by Network - Jan. 23 to 27

NOTE: Net content favoring the Republican Party in Chart 2 is portrayed in red; net content favoring the Democratic Party is shown in blue.

CBS and NBC’s party slant ratings, in comparison to last week’s, actually flipped in both cases. This is not altogether surprising, given that content under analysis for those 2 networks is relatively light, and that the nightly news shows we evaluate for both are “straight” news programs. In contrast, the party alignments of Fox, CNN, ABC, and MSNBC remained consistent, week-to-week.

As noted last Monday, our transcript 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.

Mediate Metrics’ slant measurement system is currently focused on weekday transcripts from the national nightly news programs on the 3 major broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, and NBC), along with programming aired from 5 PM until 11 PM eastern time on top 3 cable news channels (CNN, Fox, and MSNBC). Compared to last week, coverage under analysis is significantly improved for ABC and NBC, but has decreased for CBS.

For those new to our site, 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 political 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.

To properly evaluate editorial content, we have concluded that the Republican presidential primaries and candidates are subject to intense scrutiny. Related news content tends to be disproportionately negative, and often times does not contain a clear inter-party comparison — an element we consider a crucial condition for the proper evaluation of political slant. As such, we have excluded statements about the Republican Presidential primaries and candidates from our slant ratings at this juncture, unless parallel references to the Democratic party are mentioned in parallel.

We’ll publish slant ratings by program for the same January 23 – 27 time period tomorrow.

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Understanding The News

I’m about halfway through Blur by Tom Rosenstiel and Bill Kovach, and I can’t recommend this book enough. Classes on its content should be made an educational requirement.

Here are some factoids I gleaned from my readings:

  • Newspaper staffs are down by roughly 30 percent from ten years earlier. For network news, the cuts have been even steeper.
  • Traditional online news sites have gotten bigger, not smaller, despite the proliferation of online news outlets.
  • When changes in communicating to the masses have occurred in the past, existing power elites have tried to exploit the transition in almost every case.
  • The argument culture limits the information we get, rather than broadening it.

The fundamental premise of the book is that the objective-and-disciplined mediation function has largely disappeared from news reporting. In parallel, business models have arisen that focus more on assertion (goal: disseminate information quickly) and affirmation (goal: maintain audience loyalty) than on verification. As such, the burden of editing and analyzing the news falls to individuals. In essence, we must become our own investigative journalists.

The authors point out that the clash between fact-and-faith has occurred numerous times in history, providing both risks and opportunities in every case. In this instance, the challenge of “skeptically knowing” the truth about the news is indeed burdensome, but we can now interact with the media, political leaders, and others in an unprecedented manner.

Powerful stuff, if you think about it.

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Editorial Selection: Fox and MSNBC

Building on the theme of editorial selection and the news, I decided to once again use my “tag cloud” (most popular words) tool on evening and prime time broadcasts from Fox News and MSNBC on November 14th and 15th. As I highlighted yesterday, media outlets can broadcast but a tiny portion of the available news, so I decided to see what these 2 competitors decided to emphasize.

DISCLAIMER #1: I could not wait to get this out, so I’m sure I will be making additional edits and refinements.

DISCLAIMER #2: Tag clouds are not surgical instruments. That fact, combined with the knowledge that I manually culled words that did not directly relate to specific topics and messaging themes should tell the reader to view the following with a critical eye…. as you should with all interpretative journalism.

Which virtually all political news is.

Disclaimers aside, examining the content selection of Fox and MSNBC is like having box seats at a gun fight. It’s clear that MSNBC is putting Republican Presidential candidates under a microscope, taking pot shots at local Republican candidates whenever possible, and positioning themselves as the mouth-piece for the middle class. Similarly, Fox has President Obama and the 2012 election in the cross hairs, featuring topics that cast him or his administration in a negative light, with specific emphasis on job creation (or a lack thereof).

Those are the highlights — or low-lights, depending on your point of view — but there is more information in the clouds if you are willing to stare at them briefly …

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MSNBC “TOP 25” TAG CLOUD:

  • Substantial Republican Primary/Candidate focus, with Herman CAIN (236 occurrences) still drawing the most attention, ROMNEY (82 occurrences) a distant second, and Perry (52 occurrences) in third.
  • Occupy Wall Street is a significant topic, as evidenced by the occurrence of the related tag words MOVEMENT, OCCUPY, and STREET. Why WALL did not make the top 25, I have no idea.
  • SCOTT is in the top 25 primarily due to parallel references to Republican governors Scott Walker (Wisconsin) and Scott Brown (Florida). Similarly, JOHN was also mentioned frequently in relation to Ohio governor John Kasich, but I removed that name because several other JOHNs were intermingled in the word count.
  • Frequent references to AMERICANS (and AMERICANS by default, since my tag cloud tool intermittently extracts root words in parallel) and the middle CLASS seems to represent a positioning theme for MSNBC
  • JUDGE generally shows up in 2 different contexts: 1.) The judge who let Penn State coach Sandusky out on reduced bail and; 2.) The impartiality Judges Scalia and Thomas related to the Supreme Court case on health care.
  • CASE shows up in several different contexts, again related to the tag cloud tools penchant to extract root words — ObamaCARE, HealthCARE, MediCARE, and are “they” sCAREd?

FOX “TOP 25” TAG CLOUD:

  • No references to the Republican Primary candidates by name in the Top 25 tag words. In contrast, PRESIDENT (65 occurrences) and OBAMA (42 occurrences) are the top 2 most popular tag words in the cloud. When viewed in relation to the MSNBC tag cloud, one cannot help but conclude that negative politics extends to these 2 networks.
  • Similar, but not exactly the same, thematic positioning around AMERICA, but not so much on CLASS.
  • BOOK was an area of focus mostly because of controversies surrounding Bill O’Reilly’s new book (“Killing Lincoln”), and Peter Schweizer’s book about alleged congressional insider trading.
  • A greater focus on activities in the SUPER COMMITTEE, and with question on whether a satisfactory DEAL can be made.
  • DEAL was also used in the context of favorable (and ethically questionable) deals made on IPOs and land, leveraging the insider trading immunity afforded to congressman.
  • CONGRESS was primarily used in 2 contexts: 1.) There were several CONGRESS persons on the prime time Fox News programs I analyzed, and; 2.) Numerable references were made along the lines of our “Do-nothing CONGRESS. ..”
  • ELECTION appeared primarily as part of 2 topics: 1.) Forward-looking statements related to the 2012 Presidential election, and; 2.) The fact that negative news related to Solyndra was allegedly throttled by administration officials.
  • FLORIDA made the top 25 based on Florida government officials on the shows whose transcripts I analyzed.
  • JOB and JOBS are in the top group because of a focus on the subject of job creation.
  • LEGAL is attached to either the constitutional rights that should or should not be afforded terrorists, as well as related to immigration issues.
  • The term SPEAKER rose to the top because of references and sound bites from House Speaker John Boehmer, as well as an interview with FORMER SPEAKER of the House Newt Gingrich.

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If you would like to know more about the specific details of my process or the specific programs I included in this analysis, just email me at: barry@mediatemetrics.com.

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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.

Enjoy.

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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).

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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Amen.

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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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Politics and TV News: Commonly Used Bias Techniques

As I have dutifully trudged through TV news transcripts as part of creating my surveys, I have noticed certain bias techniques — some intuitive, and others subtle — that are employed with regularity by popular TV news channels.  My focus has been on political analysis segments wherein a news anchor/moderator is joined by one-or-more contributors, positioned as subject matter experts.

The most prevalent techniques are as follows:

  • False Balancing –TV viewers have been conditioned to expect news anchors to conduct interviews with contributing experts who present contrasting points of view. Interestingly, these expert contributors are occasionally unbalanced, and actually are on the same side the “debated” issue.

A variant on this theme occurs when complementary views are presented by experts from opposite camps. A Democratic congressman may be critical of aspects of “Obama-care” when interviewed side-by-side with a Republican senator whose disapproval applies to other areas. Both are critical, just in different ways.

On the surface, these experts represent groups who are traditionally in opposition, but their opinions are surprisingly aligned in this example. The notion that positions on a particular subject are not known in advance strains credibility. Still, that fact may be lost on passive TV viewers, who believe they have ingested a short-but- complete review of an issue when presented in this format, especially when the contributors are otherwise natural enemies.

Credit should go where credit is due, so I must recognize The Pessimistic Viewer’s September 12 blog (http://comm2302.wordpress.com/) for identifying and labeling this particular bias mechanism.

  • Time Management – This is an intuitively obvious slanting technique; the more time devoted to a particular perspective, the more weight it is given by the audience. Timing was initially my primary target for evaluating media bias, thinking it to be objective and readily quantifiable. In practice, however, it turned out to be much more difficult to do, primarily because of technique #3.
  • Flakking – In real-time, recording the specific speaking time of any particular contributor is inordinately difficult because of “flakking” — aggressive interruptions of contributors’ statements that are in conflict with those being favored on the program.
  •  Framing  & Finishing  – Even in the pseudo-debate construct of the popular anchor-plus-expert news format, the moderator has control of how an issue is initially framed (“Is the Gang of 6 Deficit Reduction Plan Bad for America?”) along with the manner in which the segment is closed. Even if the anchor does not personally deliver a closing statement, the last word generally has more impact than others, and the moderator can readily determine who gets it.
  • Anchor Affirmations – Television viewers have been conditioned to expect the news anchor/moderator, while possessing their own informed opinions, to exercise a certain amount of journalistic detachment and fairness. Implicitly, they are the ultimate arbiter.

Regardless of the historical role of the anchor/moderator, in this era of advocate journalism, strong opinions are easily discernible, and readily recognized as such by even the most passive viewer. Still, I often encountered more subtle endorsements which may slip passed a viewer’s internal bias filter. Simply have the moderator inject a, “Right,” or “Yes,” as a follow-on comment gives the preceding statement additional weight.

  • Pronoun Putdowns – Similar to moderator affirmations, news anchor can send a subtle-but-unmistakable message by the way they refer to involved parties. Groups holding conflicting views with the discussion leader are often referred to as “they” or “them.” Similarly, if a title-bearing politician, such as a Senator, is referred to as “he” or “him,” it comes across as a refusal to recognize rank-and-status, and conveys an implicit lack of respect.

In closing, some may see these slanting techniques as a normal part of Op-Ed programming.  While that is fair criticism to some degree, passive TV viewers may not make a conscious distinction between objective news and editorials.  The concept of framing applies here, but in a different context — Are these programs framed as Op-Ed segments, or overshadowed by pervasive, embedded marketing messages — “Cable News Network”  …  Fox News, Fair and Balanced” … “MSNBC, the Place for Politics” … “The No-Spin Zone?”

I welcome your comments on the matter.

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