Monday, August 13, 2012

What Media Bias?

Detroit Free Press columnist Ron Dzwonkowski now has scientific proof that “debunks [the] notion of liberal media bias.” Just in time for the last lap of the presidential campaign, we’re being told that Obama’s most powerful surrogate, the media, aren’t bending things his way after all. Writes Dzwonkowski:

Thirty-five major print publications, 13 TV broadcasts across five networks (basically Sunday and nightly shows) and National Public Radio. You won't believe this.

There's no liberal bias in the news media coverage of this year's presidential campaign.

Unbelievable, right? Because, as everybody knows, the media lean left and that's why we have the likes of Fox News, to keep things "fair and balanced."

And yet, from May 1 to July 15, Republicans were quoted in news reports 44% more often than Democrats, and negative coverage of President Barack Obama was 17% higher than such coverage for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.

That's not from me or from either side but from a new project called 4th Estate that runs news reports from 35 publications, including the Free Press, 13 TV broadcasts across five networks and NPR through software that sorts the content in, well, all sorts of ways in search of bias. The project, an offshoot of a news media analysis company called GNI, is an apolitical effort to test conventional wisdom about news coverage. (“Ron Dzwonkowski: New venture debunks notion of liberal media bias”).

But doesn’t this contradict what every serious news consumer can see for himself?  Naw. Science proves all of that’s just an optical illusion.  

"Media bias is certainly the perception," said Michael Howe, chief technology officer for 4th Estate, "but it's based on a lot of anecdotal evidence and people talking about 'What I think ...' We hope to change the nature of the debate."

Here’s the infographic that proves it:

bias chart

Dzwonkowski explains the 4th Estate methodology to Freep readers as best he can. For one thing, the news from these various outlets is put “through software that sorts the content in, well, all sorts of ways in search of bias.” That’s informative. And we know the software hasn’t been written by biased software writers because neither Howe nor any of “his fellow software developers . . . have ever worked in the political arena.”

At Dzwonkowski’s suggestion I went to the 4th Estate’s website to find out more about their method, but it doesn’t tell much:

The 4th Estate collects data from a sampling of news stories from US national print outlets, TV broadcast and radio transcripts covering the 2012 election. These stories are contextually analyzed and broken down by influence, topic, sentiment and newsmaker. The data for this graphic includes quotes and statements from newsmakers who provide subjective insight.

Check out the hyperlink about how the stories are broken down the way I did and see if it’s still dead.

Elsewhere Howe compares their analysis of news to the way we  analyze our food to find out exactly what’s in it. Says Howe: "Now we consume all this information from so many sources; what's in it? We're using software and algorithms to see what's in it."

Should it bother me that Howe (who “has a degree in philosophy,” gushes Dzwonkowski!) attempts an analogy between the highly precise empirical analysis of the chemistry of food ingredients to the necessarily less precise analysis of news, opinion, and the sorts of coded language employed by politicos and broadcasters? Have they really come up with an algorithm that measures how much bias went into the decision by ABC, NBC, and CBS to ignore the nasty “Romney killed my wife” ad, with the same precision used to measure the amount of Polysorbate 60 in a Hostess Twinkie?

At least one liberal isn’t buying it, either.

David A. Graham, an associate editor at The Atlantic, says he’s “sceptical” of these findings, citing 3 reasons:

  1. Obama has a track record as president to discuss. There's no apples-to-apples comparison between Romney, a former governor running for president, and Obama, with four years of deeds to critique. Given the state of the economy, et al, it's natural that there would be negative coverage.
  2. By the same token, Obama needs less oxygen in the media. He's got the famed bully pulpit; many of the conservative pundits who appear on the air are there to respond to things the president has done or said. If the president were Republican, the ratio would likely be different. I'm sure Obama would much rather have the presidential podium than a seat at the table for a surrogate.
  3. . . . . Always remember to read the fine print, kids! It's been pointed out to me that the data runs from May to July. Compared to Obama, voters are still just getting to know Romney, but the effect is much less. (“Infographic of the Day: Do the Mainstream Media Have a Conservative Bias?”).

Dzwonkowski’s in such a hot rush to debunk the “slobbering love affair” the media has with Obama that he abandons journalistic scepticism and lets himself be dazzled by twinkling computer lights and the “algorithms” that filter the news for bias “in all sorts of ways”.

He also makes it clear he’s got a serious case of nostalgia for the good old days of the media. That’s back before Rush and Fox News, when media gatekeepers like Cronkite and Brokaw protected Americans from the ill effects of the wrong kinds of facts:

The problem created by the abundance of information today is that it actually closes more minds than it opens. People used to seek information from trusted sources to make up their minds about issues. Now they turn to sources they trust to reinforce what they already believe.

What we’ve all thought was media bias has been nothing more than the objective liberal media trying to save us from too much information – or the wrong kind of information. If we just open our minds and listen, then we would learn that Romney is a wimp, that opposition to same-sex marriage is bigotry, and that all criticism of Obama is racist.

Who needs “fair and balanced”?


1 comment:

Dearborn Citizen said...

Mr. Clancy, it would be funny if it weren't so sad...on the very same day that the editorial was telling us that liberal bias was a myth, the Free Press' own editorial cartoon was another vicious smear of Romney, claiming that only 'Honest Abe' could balance Romney on the ticket. The Free Press is so slanted left their coffee cups can't stay on the table.