DEFINING EXCELLENCE DOWN! Did Democrats get more favorable coverage? We dont have the slightest idea: // link // print // previous // next //
TUESDAY, DECEMBER 18, 2007
YOUR CHANCE TO WATCH HISTORY IN ACTION: In this post, Digby records Chris Matthews insulting Clinton on Sundays Chris Matthews Show. (A conceited goody two-shoes. He also vastly dissembled.) In this post, Media Matters records the same guy insulting Clinton on last nights Hardball. (Decent people who endorse Clinton are castratos in the eunuch chorus.)
As weve told you, Matthews went into full propaganda mode in the weeks leading up to that crucial October 30 debate; he has been staging a pure propaganda campaign from that time to the present. Of course, this is exactly what he did, over a longer period, in the two years of Campaign 2000, when he endlessly trashed—and dissembled about—that ludicrous Candidate Gore. (A man-like object who would lick the bathroom floor to be president. The bath-tub ring.)
Youre seeing a type of history here. Whomever you prefer for the Dem nomination, this is your chance to see pure propaganda being delivered under the guise of cable news. Matthews is profoundly dishonest—and this is your chance to see it played out, as he shapes world history again. And this is your chance to see the press corps stooges agree with him nightly. On Sunday, Matthews dragged out the leering chimpmunk Andrew Sullivan (one of Joshs absolute favorites) to trash and bash the current Dem leader (though just barely). Indeed, two of Matthews four enablers had been brought in from other countries that day! Talk about immigration problems! Now we even import the scribes who assault us about our elections!
Whomever you prefer for the Dem nomination, this is something you should make time to see. Gather the kids, and make them watch too. Theyll be seeing the way a wealthy elite (disguised as a press corps) takes control of a White House election. Eight years ago, most liberals didnt know that this was going on. Heres your shot at the reruns.
For ourselves, weve come to believe that this mountain of narrative would vastly affect a Clinton White House. (Trust us: These fools would have driven Gore into the sea.) Since its clear that liberals and Dems will never have what it takes to resist this misconduct, we think this conduct must be considered in casting a primary vote.
But whatever you think about primary voting, dont miss the demolition derby being conducted under the guise of cable news. This conduct sent George Bush to the White House—while liberal leaders kept very quiet. Thanks to that silence, Jack Welchs Lost Boy is making history again. Notes on current silence tomorrow.
DEFINING EXCELLENCE DOWN: Who would be more effective as president—Edwards or Obama? We feel less sure than Paul Krugman does. We were also surprised to see The Man offer these views in yesterdays column:
Would a candidate who ran on a more populist platform do better in November than Obama? We dont have the slightest idea—and we dont know why Kruggers believes that he does. But we were struck by something else Krugman said in this column. We were struck by his reference to a survey which has now gained a fair amount of attention—more than it deserves, we would guess.
That survey was conducted by Pews inaptly-named Project for Excellence in Journalism. Lets quote Krugman: According to a recent survey by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, Mr. Obama's coverage has been far more favorable than that of any other candidate. To be more precise, the survey was released fairly recently (on October 29), but it deals with press coverage in the first five months of this year, from January 1 through May 31. And its true: The survey did find that Obama's coverage has been far more favorable than that of any other candidate. But how much confidence should we place in this survey? Not that much, wed have to suggest.
In our view, Obama has almost surely gotten better coverage than Clinton or Edwards. But the cited survey is very shaky. Since its being cited fairly often now, it might be worth seeing why.
As noted, the survey was released on October. On this, its Overview page, it makes some basic assertions:
According to the study, Obama had enjoyed by far the most positive treatment from the media among the five front-running candidates. (Put another way, he was getting more favorable coverage than the other candidates. A chart is provided.) In short, the study purports to measure who is getting favorable coverage or positive treatment—from something described as the media. But how did the study attempt to accomplish this task? In our view, its all downhill from here.
Who is the media? For openers, this study seems to follow a shaky procedure as it defines who the media is. Just consider how it decided which newspapers to sample. On its Methodology page, the projects lists thirteen newspapers which were sampled—but makes little attempt to explain how they were selected. And we cant help noting a certain tilt in some of the selections. The New York Times is sampled, for example—but not the conservative New York Post. Ditto for the Washington Post and the Boston Globe; both are sampled, but their conservative counterparts, the Washington Times and the Boston Herald, are not. In short, we would say that this project tends to exclude more conservative newspapers—and there seems to be no real rhyme-or-reason to the way these thirteen papers were picked.
Do these thirteen papers represent a faithful sample of the nations newspapers? We can think of no reason to assume that; essentially, the project seems to have picked-and-chosen, largely at will. Meanwhile, the project ends up declaring that Democratic candidates got more favorable coverage during this period than Republicans did. Could that finding in part reflect the apparent exclusion of conservative newspapers? We have no way of knowing. But this seems like a very weak research model—a standard component of major projects done by this inaptly-named crew.
By the way, only front-page stories were reviewed. (Beyond that, for unknown reasons, Saturday stories didnt count.) In short, all op-ed columns and editorials were skipped; so was all inside-the-paper coverage. That is a perfectly valid research strategy, but it vastly limited what got considered by this project. For example, all that trashing of Democratic wives (and haircuts) by Maureen Dowd ended up on the cutting-room floor. In this way, the study excludes a large part of what people think of when they think of the media. Over the five-month period in question, only 168 stories from these thirteen newspapers ended up in the study.
We see problems in the way other parts of the media were sampled. But the selection and use of the newspapers seemed especially problematic.
What is favorable coverage: A second point is even more problematic. What does this study mean when it talks about favorable coverage or positive treatment? Its very hard to answer that question—and to the extent that it can be answered, it seems that the Project may not be measuring what the average person thinks of when he hears such phrases.
What does the Project mean by favorable coverage? On this page (entitled Tone), we get this first explanation:
Its hard to know just what that means—and the project seems to include no samples of newspaper stories judged to be positive or negative. But for what its worth, a wide range of favorable and unfavorable comment would to seem to fall outside the rather narrow guidelines described in that passage. Would a reference to John Edwards troubling haircut (or to his troubling house) count as an assertion that offered some assessment of a candidates chances at winning or their potential effectiveness in office if they were elected? Taken literally, no—it wouldnt seem to. And yet, this sort of thing is what most Democrats think of when they think about negative coverage.
At any rate, that explanation leaves us uncertain; just what statements were included in this study? But on the Methodology page, a second explanation is offered. And uh-oh! Unless were missing something here, it doesnt seem to say the same thing as the first explanation. In this passage, the Project once again seems to explain how it measured tone:
In that explanation, it seems that a much wider array of statements would be part of the measurement. (Edwards haircut and house are now in.) And then too, the mathematics seems different. In this second explanation, it seems that a story with six negative comments and four positive comments would be ranked as negative. Under the first explanation, it seemed that it would not—that the story would count as balanced. These two passages seem to explain the same thing—and yet, they seem contradictory.
Do these relatively trivial points really matter? Only if you want to cite the findings of this study. Unfortunately, we find here what we often find when we examine work by the Project for Excellence; we find sloppy, poorly-explained, contradictory thinking about the studys most basic elements. And yes, we think this is fairly common when this group produces such work. For example, in one of its most famous studies, the Project examined the coverage of the Bush/Gore character issue in the first five months of the year 2000. On that occasion, the Project assembled a rather shaky research model—and then, the Project plainly misstated its own (rather striking) data (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 12/20/02). Unless were missing something here, the same kind of sloppy, inept work is found in this most recent effort.
In conclusion: Lets conclude with two basic points.
First, the absence of sample stories seems significant. Our guess: If you saw the news reports which were scored as positive or negative, you might see that these stories do not correspond to your idea of these designations. For example: If we understand this studys procedures correctly (based in part on prior Project studies), a perfectly objective news report will be coded as positive treatment or favorable coverage because it includes accurate statements about successes in polling and fund-raising. An example: During the period in question, Candidate McCain was polling poorly—and his fund-raising was causing problems. Did accurate reports of these basic facts lead to his designation as the guy with the least favorable coverage? We dont know, but if it did, that isnt what people think theyre learning when they hear this surveys results.
Second, the sloppy work we seem to find here tells you about the world you live in. Within the Village, the Project for Excellence is thought of as excellent—as the gold standard of media analysis. But uh-oh! Over the years, weve found that its work is often quite poor. Its the kind of work a palace elite might sponsor about its own doings.
Did Democrats get more favorable coverage during the first five months of the year? We dont have the slightest idea. But then, weve looked at the study.