Tag Archives: The Last Word with Lawrence O’Donnell

RAZING CAIN: Analysis of Prime Time Cable Coverage on Herman’s Sexual Harassment Saga

Using available transcripts (10/31 – 11/1) from  and my tag cloud tool, I compared the prime time coverage differences between CNN, Fox, and MSNBC.  I readily admit that tag clouds are a coarse analytical tool, but some interesting themes  emerge, nonetheless.

Across the board, I removed proper names of network news personalities, and terms that conveyed no significant meaning. In doing so, I was as consistent as possible across all 3 transcripts; my intent was to extract thematic meaning from the accompanying tag clouds. A full list of the words removed from the respective transcripts is available upon request.


  • Tag cloud indicates in-depth coverage on Cain’s SEXUAL (45 occurrences) harassment issue.
  • Had Politco’s John Martin on show, who helped break the story.
  • Much more scrutiny on the AGREEMENT (42 occurrences) and SETTLEMENT (37 occurrences) than other networks.
  • CAIN (269 occurrences) coverage dwarfs other topics, particularly if one considers all the related terms in the tag cloud. The related terms of PRESIDENT (61 occurrences) and OBAMA (46 occurrences) are the only other major discussion topics of note.
  •  Word count – 34,889


  • BLACK (23 occurrences) is somewhat overstated because of the interviews with former Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, but most mentions relate to Herman Cain being a black conservative.
  • Use of DON’T is somewhat conspicuous (123 occurrences). Lots of “I don’t think they …” and “don’t you believe that ..”
  • PRESIDENT (86 occurrences) and OBAMA (56 occurrences) still a major news focus. General distribution of topics discussed, beyond the Cain sexual harassment issue, appears more diverse than CNN’s in this time period.
  •  Word count – 34,644


  • MSNBC’s analysis is skewed towards 10/31. For some reason, they only posted 1 transcript (Politics Nation) on their 11/1 shows.
  •  Based on the 25 most popular tag words included in the cloud, their coverage of the core issues is similar to Fox’s and CNN’s. Still, it’s hard to tell if the limited 11/1 transcript coverage made a difference.
  •  Politics Nation is represented twice in this sample, and that show highlighted the Republican Congressional resolution reaffirming “In God We Trust” (GOD – 50 occurrences), and on the Republican Congressional initiative to cut food stamp subsidies (FOOD – 42 occurrences).
  •  Like Fox, the use of DON’T (169 occurrences) is conspicuously prominent. (“I don’t find” … “we don’t have time” …”maybe they don’t …”)
  • Raw word count of PRESIDENT (92 occurrences) and OBAMA (61 occurrences) is on par with Fox, but the total word count of the MSNBC transcripts is ~ 29% higher than the other 2 networks.
  •  Word count – 45,611
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Quantifying the Impact of TV News Bias – Example #1

The following example represents my core method of quantifying the impact of media bias, using only program segments from the top 3 cable news networks in this particular example. The underlying “Raw Bias Index” data I am using is in fact quite coarse, so consider this an alpha trial put forth for review and discussion.

Much debate has been devoted to assessing whether there is a liberal or conservative media bias. Qualitatively, a case can be made for both, but quantifying the effective bias is a more complex endeavor.

In my recent studies of television news programming, it occurred to me that the quantity of liberal TV outlets seemed greater than conservative channels, but their “share-of-voice” may still be lesser. The true impact of a particular TV news program can only be determined by considering both bias and reach.

In order to add a viewership variable, I used the Nielsen Cable News Ratings from September 8, first calculating the average rating of the 6 largest cable news networks for the entire day. (Source: TV by the Numbers – Zap2It website. http://tvbythenumbers.zap2it.com/2011/09/09/fox-news-leads-presidential-address-viewing-among-cable-news-ratings-for-thursday-september-8-2011/103155/ )

 NOTE: “P2+”= Viewers over the age of 2.

I then calculated a “Viewership Weighting” factor for each of the post-Presidential address programs from CNN, Fox, and MSNBC that I had previously created a Raw Bias Index for (see Sept. 11 post below), and com combined them to create a “Raw Impact Index.”

Needless to say, prime time news is viewed much more extensively than its daytime cousins, hence the large viewership weighting factors. Still, one can readily see in this crude example that viewership, not the number of TV outlets, is key to determining the overall impact of news bias.


PLEASE NOTE that this is but an example, and is not meant in any way to be an accurate-or-comprehensive measure of TV news bias today.


Is this methodology simplistic? You bet. I fully expect critiques from those more experienced in media measurement and proficient with survey science. Regardless, simpler is often times better.

As always, I remain open to feedback, and encourage you to leave yours in the comments section.

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