Study: Kerry Winning Coverage War

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From the Boston Globe:

The survey released yesterday by the Washington-based Project for Excellence in Journalism found that 59 percent of the stories that were primarily about Bush from Oct. 1-14 were negative in tone, compared to only 25 percent of the stories about Kerry. And while 34 percent of the Kerry coverage was favorable, a mere 14 percent of the president's coverage put him in a positive light. The survey examined 817 stories from The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Columbus Dispatch, and The Miami Herald; the evening and morning news programs on ABC, CBS, and NBC; PBS's nightly newscast, CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown;" and the Fox News Channel's "Special Report With Brit Hume."

Link via Romenesko.

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  1. Two theories are offered in this piece for why the press reported that Kerry won the debates.

    1) The press is liberal, and wanted to Kerry to win.

    2) The press wanted a tighter race, to make election stories more interesting.

    Similarly, sports reporters were almost unanimous in reporting that the Red Sox won game six of the ALCS. This is because they are all Red Sox fans, and because they decided that a game seven would make for an interesting story.

  2. For three years Bush got a free ride from the press on every controversial issue that came up. In return Bush variously mocked, ignored and chumped them. That it all unravelled prior to the election was predictable.

  3. I forgot a third reason offered in the piece – Kerry’s campaign manager acted happy and said that Kerry won, and the press picked up on that.

    Just as Terry Francona said, after game six, that he was happy the Red Sox won.

  4. This all depends on the veracity of the classification system (which seems prone from the start to heavily subjective judgments).

  5. The baseball analogy works particularly well because like baseball, the Bush stories undoubtedly covered objective, non-controversial issues that can be numerically observed and not reported in any other way. Oh wait… that’s total crap. Nevermind, my mistake.

    If one were to try to use baseball, it might be more appropriate to compare it to the coverage of Barry Bonds and the steroid issue versus the coverage he got regarding his incredible success on the field from a purely baseball-oriented standpoint. But that, of course, was not the analogy chosen (predictably enough).

  6. Hey, there’s a shocker; in an environment in which one major news organization felt compelled to run hit-piece which had as it’s basis forged documents that a middle-school student could discern in about 30 minutes, the coverage has been somewhat, shall we say, interesting. This week’s NYT campaign regarding missing explosives isn’t as obviously agenda-driven as Rather’s Folly, but it is pretty vacuous all the same.

    Really, one major factor in my likely voting for Bush, whom I have extremely little regard for, is just a desire to confound the media assholes.

  7. Interesting how some people look at it and see liberal bias. Some people (well, me) think the press has finally come to and feels like an uncommonly cheap whore for giving Bush a free ride all these years. The cheerleading for the Iraq war. . . etc.

    It’s not an original theory of mine, but all these liberal bias stories popping up are preemptive rationalizations for Bush losing the election, and an attempt to set the groundwork for declaring Kerry illegitimate.

  8. ‘free ride all these years…”

    just keep repeating that over and over and maybe some folks without TV’s, the internet, or newspaper service will believe it.

  9. This is so easy…

    1) Democrats get their support mostly from large Cities such as Philadelphia, NY, LA, DC, Chicago, etc.

    2) Every large city has at least one conservative alternative (Washington Times, NY Post, etc)

    3) People in big cities dont buy the conservative alternative, thus they have much lower circulation.

    4) the exact opposite is true of small rural communities. There are hundreds and thousands of small rural newspapers with low circulation (less than 10,000), which are VEHEMENTLY pro Bush.

    5) Typically these small papers are never included in these surveys because doing so would be far more tedious, expensive, and time consuming.

    So theres your “liberal media bias”.

  10. So Matthew, polls showing that most people thought Kerry did better in the debates are not reliable data for concluding that Kerry did a better job in the debates. OK.

    It’s not as if the public’s perception about the candidates’ performance is the measure of their success in the debates, anyway.

  11. Here in the reality based community, most people recognize that Bush actually got pretty good press for a couple of years.

    But that’s just my own liberal weakness, using empirical observation to draw my conclusions. The Bushies know that the real story is that they are continually oppressed by a hostile mainstream press, and in their typically bold and resolute fashion, set out to change reality to make it fit their vision. So that people like me could then study that new reality.

    Maybe there’s a explanation for Abu Ghraib, troop shortages, and looted weapons caches after all.

  12. Now that we’ve changed the subject to some degree..

    Acutally, you’re right, even though you were trying to be sarcastic. The goal in a debate is to increase the number of voters who will vote for you in an election. That is wholly different than winning a poll asking voters who performed better. Had I been polled, I would have said that Kerry performed better in the debates, but in part due to the genuinely and profoundly frightening nature of the views he delineated, my vote has shifted from Badnarik to Bush. Not that either of them preferred to have the public perceive them as underperforming in the debate, but I think you see the point. Depending on which polls you like to listen to, the debates probably haven’t done much for either candidate.

    Nicely done! You were accidentally very wise, almost against your will. Keep it up.

  13. Hey Josh, I’m sure the fact that small town newspapers get most of their nonlocal coverage from the AP and, indeed, those big city newspapers plays no role whatsoever in the fact that the Globe felt no reason to count them.

  14. The “Bush got a free ride so now we’re balancing things out” argument is too dangerous to play with. Do the job correctly and when it’s done incorrectly, admit one’s one shortcomings and go on from there. A careless media is a sword that can cut both ways, after all.

  15. I think it boils down to something pretty simple: Bush sucked in the debates, and the papers were fairly honest about it.

    I’m guessing the newspapers spent more time discussing the Yankees negatively versus the Red Sox after the Sox won.

  16. Woodward has been trying to get a sit-down with Kerry since July, but Kerry won’t show up. Is Kerry selective regarding his media contacts? Of course. Is he avoiding the hard interviews? Sure. The results? Softball stuff. Bring it on? Uh, only if he likes it.

  17. Hey Shem, you are saying that the AP is biased is a different claim. Sampling about a dozen major media outlets does not tell the whole story. This is an old trick by the conservative media. Hell, the Boston Globe didnt even include themselves in their “study”.

  18. I’m not saying the AP is biased or not biased, I’m saying that local newspapers produce almost nothing in terms of issues that aren’t totally local. I suppose you could count them purely to figure out how their editorial boards come down, but given the fact that they get their news from the groups the study already counted it seems rather pointless

  19. I wonder if negative stories about Bush include stories about problems in the nation and in the world that are seen as his responsibility. For instance, does a story about the economy doing badly or about problems in Iraq that includes any reference to Bush count? If so, this would be the somewhat inevitable result of Bush’s being the incumbent. And in fact, though I support Kerry, it occurred to me during the debates to say to Kerry, “That’s easy for you to say,” because as badly as I believe Bush has performed, the incumbent is at an inherent disadvantage because he has a record to criticize, and there’s always problems in the world you can blame on him (especially when you go to war). Of course, this disadvantage is way more than outweighed by the many advantages of incumbency, but my point is that this might explain the difference being cited. I don’t claim to know for sure, and I’m sure many here will dismiss the idea out of hand, but in lieu of contradicting evidence, it seems perfectly plausible to me.

  20. The leftist press is throwing The “botox ghoul” soft balls…whoda thunk it?

  21. “The goal in a debate is to increase the number of voters who will vote for you in an election. That is wholly different than winning a poll asking voters who performed better.”

    …as demonstrated by the sharp uptick in Kerry’s support after he won the debates.

    Yup, winning debates has nothing to do with convincing people to vote for you.

    Weak stuff, Matthew.

  22. “Depending on which polls you like to listen to, the debates probably haven’t done much for either candidate.”

    Bwah haw haw haw hawwwwwww! Stop it, stop it, I’m going to pee my pants!

  23. “Had I been polled, I would have said that Kerry performed better in the debates, but in part due to the genuinely and profoundly frightening nature of the views he delineated, my vote has shifted from Badnarik to Bush.”

    In which debate did Kerry sacrifice a live pig and command Americans to worship Satan? Because I can’t remember him saying anything beyond the normal Democratic campaign spiel, which you knew he was going to recite anyway even before the debates.

  24. “Depending on which polls you like to listen to, the debates probably haven’t done much for either candidate.”

    Taken as a whole the polls clearly show a large uptick for Kerry (post debate). This has dwindled at a fairly constant rate from the last debate. What this says about the results Nov.2? Don’t know. However, it clearly demonstrates the American publics attention span is on average about 20min long.

  25. “In which debate did Kerry sacrifice a live pig and command Americans to worship Satan?”

    I told him that would look bad, and he needed to wait until July 3 for that. I need him to win after all.

  26. Maybe, just maybe, journalists in general don’t care to much for Bush because of little liberty squelching things like, oh, say… The Patriot Act? The fact that every time they go down to the library to do research every thing they search for is subject to the scrutinizing eyes of the FBI? Or maybe the administration’s culture of secrecy and suppression of dissent? Hmmmm…

  27. Is anyone really surprised by this? Of course not. It’s been known for years, just ignored by liberals.

    Then along came the Internet. . .

  28. Oh, there it is. A “those damn libruls” argument. Everybody take a drink

  29. Joe you constantly provide the worst analogies.

  30. Wait, wait – is it an example of media bias that more papers endorse Kerry? Of is it an example of media bias to REPORT that more papers endorse Kerry?

    National Review has been bitching that all the newspapers support Democrats for years.

  31. Just thought I’d say that Houston has no alternative to the generally liberal Houston Chronicle. It used to have the Post, but that paper folded approximately a decade ago. So Houston has the dubious distinction of being the largest city in the country with only one large circulation newspaper.

  32. Although I must point out that the Chronicle editorial staff endorsed Bush in 2000 and is recommending his re-election in 2004.

  33. Joe wrote (sarcastically): “Yup, winning debates has nothing to do with convincing people to vote for you.”

    Since you like metaphors, let’s try this one:

    Julia Roberts and Leona Helmsley are hanging out at the corner watering hole. They decide to play a game of darts. Helmsley nails a handful of bulleyes, while most of Julia’s throws veer off the mark.

    The bar crowd, having watched with great interest, agrees with good reason that Helmsley has won the game.

    But they still like Julia Roberts a hell of a lot more.

  34. Winning a round of darts is unlikely to convince anyone that Leona is a hottie.

    Kerry’s numbers in the horserace went up significantly after the debates.

    People seem to consider performance in the debates to be a good way to understand what a politician is like.

  35. Exactly how many more things do the Republicans need to have an iron grip on before they no longer try and pass themselves off as beleagured underdogs cowering at the feet of the evil, all powerful, Liberal elite?

    Republicans: White House, Senate, House, Supreme Court, State Governorships, corporate leadership postiions (including the media), talk radio. And nobody in the mainstrem press, print or tv, is any further left than “conservative democrat” or “liberal republican”, so let’s dispense with that nonsense.

    Democrats: Humanities Departments.

    What am I leaving out?

  36. Joe,

    So, after making an incredibly inept analogy, you’re saying that pointing out that “Did this candidate debate better?” and “Are you more likely to vote for this candidate now” are not identical questions is “weak stuff”? I’m going to let you stew on that one on your own, chief. I know you’re doing your best, but if that’s all you have, I guess that’s all you have.

    Getting back to the original point, I wanted to question the post you used to divert attention away from your initial analogy. It sounded from that post like you were positing that stories describing a poll showing that people thought Kerry did better in the debates qualified as a story that was favorable to Kerry. If you look at the study itself, reporting those poll results would not qualify in and of itself as favorable or unfavorable. It’s about the way the story is written, the terminology used and the issues chosen.

  37. “…polls showing that most people thought Kerry did better in the debates are not reliable data for concluding that Kerry did a better job in the debates.”-joe

    I remember seeing early polls from the 2nd, and (especially) the 3rd debate that the initial “who won” polls were quite close. As a couple of days went on, the margins of victory in the polls widened in Kerry’s favor. It does not take a stroke of genius to speculate that the united media chorus of “Kerry wins debates” was having an effect on the public’s perception of who “won”, thereby rendering the poll results dubious.

    My own perception is that Kerry is more comfortable in a debate, therefore the way he presents his positions is better. Unfortunately, as Kerry’s positions run from naive to implausible to utter bullshit, I cannot say he won. Kerry triumphed on style, and cratered on substance.

  38. The fact that the Wash Post (by its own admission today) hasn’t endorsed a Republican for president since 1952 does not mean it’s biased against Republicans. It just means that every single Republican running for that office for over half a century has been objectively unsuitable for the office – no bias here, keep moving.

    Oddly enough, the paper hasn’t endorsed a Libertarian for president during that time period either – but that fact doesn’t meant they are biased against us, right?

  39. Maybe Bush is a stubborn jackass who’s more concerned with being resolute than he is with being right and the writers/editors of the nation could see that, even from a distance and in spite of him rarely holding press conferences.

    As for all those small town folks who are vehemently for Bush, I spent 20 years in a tiny little midwestern burg and found most of my neighbors to be ignorant, small-minded hillbillies who I wouldn’t trust to watch my cat, let alone make an informed choice for president. They probably prefer Bush because they can’t pronounce nuclear correctly either. The reason they don’t discuss national political news in the paper is because the only thing the people who could read wanted to know about was high school football.

  40. It sounds like the press won’t have to defend itself against charges of bias – some of you have done it for them. But I’d rather hear what the press has to say. Let the pussies speak for themselves.

  41. “I remember seeing early polls from the 2nd, and (especially) the 3rd debate that the initial “who won” polls were quite close. As a couple of days went on, the margins of victory in the polls widened in Kerry’s favor.”

    You’re remembering wrong, then. The third debate broke strongly for Kerry, and only ended up close in the public mind after the Republicans spent the next few days wailing about Mary Cheney.

    It was the second debate that was fairly close.

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