Saturday, August 25, 2012

News Flash: Media Bias Is Insidious, Pervasive, and Endemic

'It' may start when we get up in the morning, tune the TV to our favorite morning show or turn on the radio to check on the latest news, weather, or sports.  Some of us even get the morning newspaper to supplement the TV or radio while we throw down a bite of breakfast and sip on a cup of coffee.  Then out the door, into the car we go where the radio is turned on.  'It' may end at night watching a serious drama, funny sitcom, news channel or even a favorite late-night comedian. So what’s 'it'?  'It' is media bias.  'It' is unrelenting.  'It' is pervasive.

In the past 50 years, numerous stories have surfaced discussing this pervasive phenomenon.  But comments, in the past month, by Jake Tapper, Mark Halperin and Greg Kandra, all respected members of the journalistic community, emphatically emphasized appreciable and blatant media bias. Together their comments sent a tremor through the journalist/reporter community.  We heard from Jake Tapper who said, in an interview with Laura Ingraham, “A lot of people are hurting out there. Unemployment is 8.3 percent. That doesn’t even take into account the underemployed”.  Tapper then added, "I have said before… [that I] thought the media helped tip the scales [to Obama]. I didn’t think the coverage in 2008 was especially fair to either Hilary Clinton or John McCain".  Mark Halperin, NBC Political Analyst, posited to Lester Holt that, “I think the press still likes this story a lot. The media is very susceptible to doing what the Obama campaign wants, which is to focus on this [Romney’s tax returns]. I don’t think there’s any chance, at this point, you saw Ann Romney on Rock Center saying that’s it, “we’re not putting out any more. He does have one more year of returns coming. Last year’s returns will be out in a few weeks. I’m pretty sure that’s all he’s going to put out”.  Halperin’s remark was in answer to the question as to why the media was obsessed with Romney’s tax returns.  Greg Kandra, a former CBS news producer, weighed in with, “[I’m] weary of trying to defend the indefensible.” And that, “[the media] deserve what they [the critics] are saying about you.  It’s earned.”  Kandra also indicated the media had “done a [great] job of diminishing what was once a great profession and undermining one of the underpinnings of democracy, a free press”. 

Like pornography most Americans know media bias when they see it.  Americans told Rasmussen polling that the media is clearly biased.  They believe that Barack Obama has received the best treatment so far in the press 59% to Romney’s 18%, and think that bent will continue with Obama getting 51% of future support to only 9% for Romney…other responses were equally stunning.  These results were supported to an extent by both a Gallup and a Fox News poll.  Three recent egregious examples of journalistic/broadcast media bias were delivered by Candy Crowley, Soledad O’Brien, and Andrea Mitchell.  Each video has an almost comical feel as these journalists state opinions not hard news and are taken to task for their views/actions.  Candy Crowley, a CNN anchor and soon to be presidential debate moderator, opined that some of her sources felt the selection of Paul Ryan was a “death wish”.  Soledad O’Brien decides to push the ‘birther’ issue with the wrong republican and demonstrates her liberal slant.  The frosting on the cake is Andrea Mitchell’s deliberate and willful editing of a tape to misrepresent a Romney statement. 

So what does the word bias and the phrase media bias mean?  The dictionary says that bias is ‘a particular tendency or inclination, especially one that prevents unprejudiced consideration of a question; prejudice’. Media bias refers to the bias of journalists and news producers within the mass media in the selection of which events and stories are reported and how they are covered. The term "media bias" also implies a pervasive or widespread bias contravening the standards of journalism. Put differently media bias is the inclination for the media to present stories/concepts/ people based on the journalist’s disposition, prejudices, views of colleagues or possibly the views of society. Media bias can be blatant, but is usually subtle and has become chronic.

Bias in the news media doesn’t come overtly in the form of outright or intentional lies. It can manifest itself in the sins of subtle commission and overt omission. Omission encompasses facts omitted which would diminish the reported story's advancement.   As Timothy Groseclose, of UCLA and Jeffrey Milyo, from the University of Missouri, stated, “[F]or every sin of commission…we believe that there are hundreds, and maybe thousands, of sins of omission – cases where a journalist chose facts or stories that only one side of the political spectrum is likely to mention”.  Other bias sins have been defined as ‘one-think’ or sameness, arrogance (the elitist attitude of ‘I know better’), laziness and ‘savior’ thinking.  Sameness/one-think refers to the environment in which journalists work and interact; a habitat where 75-85% of their colleagues hold very similar beliefs.  Laziness is often described as using a meme being promoted by the community of like-minded thinkers.  For example journalists have used a ‘talking point’ as the foundation for a narrative.  Since talking points usually have pre-developed rationales, this tactic saves the reporter time and the in-depth mental focus needed to develop the subject on which they are working.  The ‘savior’ precept was described by Robert Lichter of the nonpartisan Center for Media and Public Affairs, as, “Increasingly, journalists see themselves as society’s designated saviors,” whose mission is to “awaken the national conscience and force public action”.  ABC News’ Peter Jennings said to the Boston Globe in July 2001: “[for] those of us who went into journalism in the ’50s or ’60s, it was sort of a liberal thing to do. Save the world”.
Three serious media bias studies deserve mention and include:

  •  “Media Bias Basics”, a study published in 1981 by S. Robert Richter, of George Washington University at the time, and Stanley Rothman, of Smith College.  The study compiled and analyzed data back to 1964 yet its conclusions remain highly relevant today.   
  •  “A Measure of Media Bias” (the full study), sometimes referred to as the UCLA study, published in 2004 and subsequently updated, authored by Timothy Groseclose, of UCLA and Jeffrey Milyo, from the University of Missouri.  This study used a relatively unique methodology to measure media bias.   
  •  “The Harvard Media Bias Study” is summarized in, “Harvard Study Confirms Liberal Media Bias”, a synopsis of an article published in November 2007 in Investor’s Business Daily, a financial newspaper, reviewed by Herb Denenberg.  The findings, albeit stunning, were quite compatible with the 2 previous studies and their conclusions.

“In the Tank: A Statistical Analysis of Media Bias”, by John Perazzo, a columnist and managing editor of DiscoverTheNetworks, summarizes many of the similar conclusions found in the Media Basics, UCLA and Harvard studies and a few other highly regarded offerings e.g. “The Invisible Primary-Invisible No Longer…”.  Some of the conclusions are astonishing.  For example The Wall Street Journal presents the news with a very strong liberal bias which is offset by the conservatism of its editorial/op-ed pages.  The only news sources consistently measuring right of center (and only marginally) are Fox News’ “Special Report With Brit Hume” and The Washington Times; both are slightly right of the average US voter; the “NewsHour with Jim Lehner” is the most centrist…interestingly the fourth most centrist is Fox’s “Special Report with Brit Hume”.  Nevertheless of the 20 major media outlets examined, 18 scored left of center, with CBS, ABC and NBC evening news broadcasts along with The New York Times and The Los Angeles Times all ranking as very left/ liberal news sources (all in the top 8); at the top as previously mentioned is The Wall Street Journal’s news pages.

These media bias studies explored the views of news professionals on social, ethical and political issues in an effort to understand some the catalysts for bias.  Their beliefs when compared to the public's beliefs vary significantly.  These feelings simply do not comport with an average citizens.  Some of the findings were:
  • From 90-97% of news pros were pro-choice on abortion and more than 50% believe the procedure should be legal under any circumstances.  Only 4% of those queried were anti-abortion in all cases. 
  • The statement, “government should work to reduce the income gap between rich and poor” was supported by 75% of the news people questioned.  
  • Just 30% believe that private enterprise is fair to workers.  
  • Only 6-8% of media professionals attend church on a regular basis verses a much higher public attendance rate.  
  • Over 80% of journalists support affirmative action in both business and education.  They believe only the government can be an arbiter of fairness in either venue.  
  • Americans using a disproportionate share of the world’s natural resources is considered “immoral” by 57% of the media respondents. 
  • The Republican’s 1994 Contract with America was deemed a campaign ploy by journalists surveyed in 1996; 3% indicated that the plan was a serious proposal
  •   A majority of journalists felt that adultery was acceptable in some circumstances.

Additionally the support of journalists for candidates that were Democrats or liberals were evaluated in some of these studies and it was discovered that:
  • Between 1964 and 2004 the professional media has voted overwhelmingly for every Democratic candidate. 
  • Carter received more than twice as many votes as Reagan in the 1980 election. 
  • George McGovern garnered over 80% of the media’s vote in 1972.
  • Even in 1984 Democrat Walter Mondale received 58% of the vote of news pros in the face of strong evidence that President Reagan had rescued America from a crippling malaise; both in public spirit and a severe economic downturn. 
  • An astonishing 12 to 1 ratio of news people voted for Michael Dukakis over George H. W. Bush in 1988.  The sample encompassed White House journalists spanning print, broadcast and news services. 
  • In 1992 Washington bureau leaders and congressional reporters favored Clinton over George H. W. Bush by an 89% to 7% margin. 
  • Journalists donated to Democrats in 2008 at a rate of 8 times the level they gave to Republicans.
Serious studies of the media’s lack of objectivity are clear and compelling.  Study upon study has demonstrated over a span of more than 30 years that a severe media liberal bias exists.  The bias has been under-reported yet consistent.  Only recently has the issue of MSM bias/favoritism surfaced with force.  The focus will not be easily buried since solid and broad polling shows that the average American sees it, feels it and resents it.  They have tired of media's condescension and arrogance which ignores their ability to critically evaluate issues/stories and decide on their merits.  They have thrown down the gauntlet and stated without equivocation they no longer trust nor respect media's reporting. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Just 7 Incredible Days…Yet a Solid Roll-Out

Just one week ago GOP nominee, Mitt Romney, tapped Congressman Paul Ryan as his running mate.  The announcement ended growing speculation on his choice and slowed the increasingly vicious attacks from team Obama which were drowning out any chance of Romney’s positive economic message being heard above the din.  A great deal has happened during the ensuing week.
First, the timing of the announcement has been described as either fortuitous or clever.  ‘Fortuitous’ because it coincided with a growing outrage due to the murderer ad claim (and associated lies).  The nexus of a rising discomfort with the divisive/ugly tactics used by a sitting President and the ‘murderer’ ad, which had been substantially ignored by the MSM, began to create a compelling narrative favorable to Romney.  Further, Obama’s multiple “D” strategy of deceive, distract, distort, demonize, denigrate, divide, and dissemble was sadly working.  Americans were paying little attention to the issues, i.e. an abysmal economy, high unemployment, suffocating deficits, incredible national debt, declining family net worth, increasing poverty and a disastrous real estate market.  Some battleground state polling (e.g. Ohio & Wisconsin) were beginning to show Romney’s support marginally wilting due in part to the relentless negative fusillade.  However, the germination of a backlash was occurring and it began to jolt the Obama campaign.
‘Clever’ because Paul Ryan represented an aggressive and surprising pick.  The timing gave Romney the weekend to begin defining his pick in a positive light as he simultaneously, with the help of surrogates, a few Democrats, and a growing group in the press, delved more deeply into the ‘killer’ charge and others which included racist, felon and tax cheat.  The Obama team and other Democrats, both possibly caught by surprise and having to respond to the growing ‘murderer’ backlash, seemed to struggle with effective tactics to counter Congressman Ryan. 

Second, Governor Romney’s allies surfaced video tapes of Erskine Bowles, the Democratic Co-Chair, of Obama’s Commission on Fiscal Responsibility praising the Ryan budget.  Bowles’ comments were made on Sept 8, 2011 to a University of North Carolina audience.  Former President Bill Clinton also encouraged Ryan to continue his efforts to reduce/control the deficit and entitlement programs in an off the record conversation captured at a Pete Peterson Foundation event.  Yet the most ironic video clip was a discourse by President Obama touting Ryan and the Ryan Budget as, “a serious proposal. I've read it. I can tell you what's in it. And there's some ideas in there that I would agree with but there’s some ideas we should have a healthy debate about because I don’t agree with them.”  The “healthy debate” phrase will haunt and slow this president’s demonization of Ryan.  Finally, the Republican base, already motivated to defeat Obama, became even more motivated since Ryan is seen as a “true” conservative with strong pro-life credentials.  Romney found himself finally running with a much larger group of committed supporters.  To quote Churchill, “There is at least one thing worse than fighting with allies, and that is to fight without them.”  Romney was clearly energized and in a position to present his plans with articulate help…it was now 2 on 2.

Third, scandals (Fast & Furious, Homeland Security sex discrimination law suits, & the White House security leaks debate etc.) continued to receive attention from the press.  Soaring gas prices elevated the public’s reassessment of the Obama energy strategy or lack thereof.  A discussion of Medicare coupled with Obamacare, the much disliked/derided Obama plan, also began to create headlines.  The discussion pitted the President’s lack of a plan against a plan created by Paul Ryan and Oregon Democrat Senator Ron Wyden to preserve Medicare which has Romney’s full support.  The back and forth highlighted the removal of $716 billion from Medicare to ‘finance’ Obamacare which places senior healthcare in the hands of unelected government bureaucrats…and will possibly lead to rationing.  Taken together these issues have assisted the Romney/Ryan ticket in gaining traction and modest control of the dialogue to date.  But the ‘gift that keeps on giving’, Vice President, Joe Biden, made a comment which was interpreted as racist and demeaning even in the Black community.  Within hours he piled gaffe on gaffe with a statement he was in one state when actually in another, and also made reference to the wrong ‘century’.  These and other pronouncements brought into question his fitness for the Vice Presidency.  More importantly Biden’s statements touched off a divisive debate within the Democrat party discussing whether he should be replaced.  The discussion ended when the President’s press secretary emphatically insisted there would be no change in the ticket.  The debate was resurrected almost immediately when writer Edward Klein, author of “The Amateur”, claimed his White House sources said the VP position had been recently offered to Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.

Fourth, polling data began emerging that the Romney/Ryan ticket was receiving a bump in a wide range of polls.  The polls included Rasmussen, Gallup, Purple Strategies (a bipartisan battleground state poll), Quinnipiac, John Zogby and Pew to cite some of those released on or before Friday August 17.  Two cautions bear mention…the released poll data is based on just 2, at most 3 days of data after the selection was made; longer term polling will be much more accurate.  The press also began speculating on the size of the ‘bump’ which could or should happen.  The range of ‘bumps’ spanned 3-11 percentage points.  Polling bumps have become lower in magnitude with each successive national election since 2000.  A ‘bump’ in the 2-4 percentage point range might be a good indicator for the Romney/Ryan team, but would still be highly speculative.  A safer assumption might be a change in direction of the polling could be a more meaningful predictor of a successful kickoff of the Romney/Ryan team.  A preliminary polling survey surfaces only one “outlier”, a Pew poll.  The Pew poll (dated 8-13-12) states that seniors strongly disapprove of the Ryan Medicare plan by 51% verses 43% who approve.  All other notable polls indicate growing approval of the Romney/Ryan philosophy, increasingly positive views of the Republican team and a heightened understanding of the merits of their economic proposals and entitlement strategies.  Some of the hard copy accompanying the poll results grudgingly concede the featured poll's data and conclusions.  One newspaper in particular, The Miami Herald, is a poster board for liberal media bias in its poll related narrative.

Rasmussen published a poll on August 18 that put Romney in the lead nationally by 4% (LV daily approval poll).  Maybe more telling is a Gallup poll published on August 16 showing appreciable disapproval of Obama’s economic management, budgets, and deficit performance.  On all the issues the metrics are quite negative for Obama; 60% disapprove of his economic policies and 64% are negative toward his budget.  Job creation shows a gap of over 20% negative between bad and good performance on job creation.  Another illuminating poll from August 16 signals seniors in Florida fear Obama’s Medicare plan more than the Romney/Ryan plan.

In summary the evidence spells a successful first week roll-out of the Romney/Ryan team, albeit over an intense 7 days.  Various interpretations can be made of the week’s activity and consequences depending on perspective.  Clearly a broader range of serious issues is now being presented to the American people.  The issues in focus now span the need for an economic revival with an emphasis on job creation, spending control and thus deficit control, and an adult conversation relative to the exploding costs of entitlement programs such as Medicare.  An articulate, consistent and balanced discussion in these areas by the Romney/Ryan team will build a majority voting block over time and send Obama and company back to Chicago. Yes a solid roll-out.