Media Bias: Going beyond Fair and BalancedRead the rest of the article.
Despite popular accounts, researchers found that Barack Obama got more negative press coverage than John McCain did in the early summer
By Vivian B. Martin
Editor's Note: This story will be published in the November 2008 issue of Scientific American.
Nothing ratchets up the perennial debate over media bias like a presidential election. But as Tim Groeling, a political scientist at the University of California, Los Angeles, observes, public discussions about media bias are often just “food fights,” with pundits and partisans throwing around anecdotes.
Groeling is hoping to advance scientific (and public) knowledge beyond this mush with research he used to demonstrate selection bias in television networks’ decision to run or withhold the results of presidential approval polls. For an article appearing in Presidential Studies Quarterly this December, Groeling designed a method to deal with a problem that often besets research on the media: people can identify all the news that journalists saw fit to print, but it’s more difficult to determine what they chose to ignore.
To counter the problem of the “unobserved population,” Groeling collected two different data sets: in-house presidential approval polling by ABC, CBS, NBC and FOX News and the networks’ broadcasts of such polls on evening news shows from January 1997 to February 2008. Groeling found that, with varying degrees of statistical significance, CBS, NBC and ABC showed what Groeling calls a pro-Democrat bias. For instance, CBS was 35 percent less likely to report a five-point drop in approval for Bill Clinton than a similar rise in approval and was 33 percent more likely to report a five-point drop than a rise for George W. Bush. Meanwhile FOX News showed a statistically significant pro-Republican bias in the most controlled of the three models Groeling tested: its Special Report program was 67 percent less likely to report a rise in approval for Clinton than a decrease and 36 percent more likely to report the increase rather than the decrease for Bush.
Groeling’s work is one of the few studies to quantify partisan bias in the media, a subject notoriously difficult for social scientists to research and discuss. These scientists work with theories such as the socalled hostile media effect to predict that ardent supporters of a cause will view media as slanted for the other side, and they have conducted hundreds of studies that have revealed imbalances in the ways journalists frame news on topics ranging from AIDS to the war in Iraq. But there is not a cohesive literature on media bias.
Well, we all knew there was nothing fair and balanced about Faux News.