Tag Archives: News program

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

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), for shows aired from 5 PM until 11 PM eastern time, Monday through Friday. As highlighted yesterday, our analytical coverage varies by network, program, and date, but our intention is to augment it over time.

CHART 2: Slant Rating by Program - January 16 to 20, 2012

Content favoring the Republican party in Chart 2 is portrayed in red (numerically positive), while content that slants towards the Democratic Party is shown in blue (numerically negative). 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 network, program, and date, so does the associated confidence factor in our slant ratings. The exact amount of coverage per network is shown in the Table 2 below, but we have graphically indicated depth-of-coverage by way of color shading in Chart 1. For example, the cones representing The Five, Hannity, and On The Record were purposely made lighter to reflect the relatively small transcript coverage for those particular networks. Low transcript coverage likely accounts for certain results that may seem counter-intuitive; we expect those metrics to adapt with volume and time.

TABLE 2: Slant by Program - January 16 to 20, 2012

As mentioned yesterday, we have partitioned statements about the Republican Presidential primaries, since they tend to be disproportionately negative and often lack inter-party comparison, and have largely excluded them from these slant ratings. Similarly, the Republican Presidential debates and other such dedicated program segments have been omitted in their entirety since they do not reflect the political positions of the networks, programs, or contributors under a consideration.

We’ll publish an “impact rating” for the same January 16 – 20 time period tomorrow.

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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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Political News: More Commonly Used Media Bias Techniques

Combing through news transcripts for bias indicators provides you with either unique insights or temporary insanity. Despite my questionable mental state, I’ve uncovered some subtler tricks-of-the-news-trade that I’d like to share with my readers.

Value Judgments: By definition, a value judgment is an assessment that reveals more about the values of the person making the assessment than about the reality of what is assessed. Value judgments can be either direct or projected.

Direct value judgments are often preceded with “I,” either explicitly or as understood. Examples are: “I don’t believe that …,” “that won’t work …” Projected value judgments are less obvious, but are used extensively by certain commentators and politicians. Speakers, often wrapping themselves in the flag or as the spokesperson for some popular group, stealthily project their personal opinions with statements like, “Americans won’t support…,”or  “People are not going to …” It doesn’t jump out at you, but the speaker is putting their view in someone else’s mouth.

Loaded Questions and Leading Questions:  A program anchor is in a position of power to determining how the news is presented while viewers sit passively, accepting that the commentator is objectively informing and moderating discussions based on years of conditioning. In the modern era of news programming that is often not the case. Dialogs are rife with loaded and leading questions.

The popular definition of a loaded question is one which contains as controversial assumption but, for the purposes of semantically evaluating bias, my definition is that it is one that contains indisputable evidence of bias. It gives a strong indication of how an anchor wants his/her respondent to answer. Guidelines for recognizing loaded questions include:

  • Embedded value-judgments by the questioner: “Don’t you think that sounds <odd/wrong/funny/strange>”?
  • Multiple questions within the same statement: “Who would support…?”, “What is the thinking….?”, “Where did they get…?”, “When …?”, “Why …?”

Leading questions are usually more subtle, and don’t have the clear indicators of loaded questions. Still, a savvy viewer can generally pick them out instinctively, particularly when considered together with succeeding responses. For the most part, news programs conform to the cardinal rule of litigation: Don’t ask a question if you don’t know how it will be answered. In the information age, commentators are rarely uninformed about the positions of their guests. In fact, most of them are regulars.

Once you are aware of these rhetorical devices, you’ll be surprised how often you will notice them while watching, “The News.”

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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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Reasons for Watching Political News: To Be Informed or To Be Affirmed?

As explore methods for measuring media bias, a different consideration has come to mind. Measuring how bias is delivered by the media is a significant challenge, but I have become increasingly curious about how political messaging is received.

Said another way, why do people watch political news … really?

I believe that there are 2 basics answers to that question:

  1. Viewers come to be informed about a political issues, or:
  2. People watch to affirm positions that emanate from their personal desires, their preconceived notions, their vested interests, their group affiliations, as well as from information rationally processed previously.

These states of mind are not mutually exclusive. Rather, they represent a kind of mental continuum. On one end, the viewer’s mind is openly accepting and processing new information. At the other, political news content rides along well-travelled synaptic pathways, affirming previously-accepted beliefs. What makes this more interesting, and perhaps more troubling, is that most viewers believe that they are watching only to be informed, when they are in fact unknowingly creating a kind of mental muscle-memory.

When a notion is repeatedly affirmed in one’s mind, the more embedded it becomes. In extreme cases, a thoroughly entrenched belief is virtually unchangeable. Studies have shown that, when presented with unimpeachable evidence to the contrary, believers often become more dogmatic about their convictions. This phenomenon, known in psychological circles as “cognitive dissonance,” occurs when 2 conflicting ideas are held in the mind simultaneously. To mitigate this conflict, our minds kick the less troubling idea out. Sometimes forcefully.

Other thought processes play a significant part in the way we ingest news today. Recent “decision theories” suggests that, despite long held beliefs that humans are fundamentally logical thinkers, we instead make primarily emotional decisions, using our intellects to rationalize them ex post facto.  Emotional decision-making may, in fact, be superior to rational thinking if one’s mind is properly trained. So suggests author Jonah Lehrer in his popular novel, How We Decide.

To use Lehrer’s example of NFL quarterback Tom Brady, the emotional brain can process faster than the thinking brain when information is coming in too fast to handle cognitively. In Brady’s case, his well-trained emotional brain can instantly calculate exactly where to throw a football, in the face of irregular pass blocking, random blitzes, and 5 receivers running intricate pass patterns on a wet, windy day.

With the rapid pace of our modern lives and the abundance of messaging bombarding us, Americans are increasingly relying on their emotional brains to make decisions. As with Mr. Brady, this works well if one’s mind has been properly conditioned. Watching game films and consciously re-living moments where both good-and-bad choices were made enables Brady to improve his emotional decision-making.  It is this state of awareness that becomes a means to better his play going forward.

Lofty as it sounds, that’s what my media bias index — of which a new-and-improved version will be introduced in the coming weeks — is intended to do. Bias in the media is a fact of life.  As long as humans generate media content, there will be bias.  Rather than taking on the impossible challenge of eradicating it, my goal is to simply make people aware of what they are ingesting, so that they consciously assess what political content they are taking in, and why.

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