The far-right Media Research Center (MRC) has released a new report declaring overwhelmingly positive media coverage of Barack Obama in the network evening news broadcasts. I've scrutinized part of the study and media coverage during one month, and this simple look at reality indicates that MRC is intentionally lying about the media coverage.
According to MRC, in the last month of the primary race, 43% of the network news stories were positive and only 1% were negative. This period covers May 7 to June 3. According to MRC, there were 2.94 stories per day in the final month about Obama, or a total of around 90. This means that according to the MRC, there was only one story in the entire month on all three networks that was negative about Obama. So, out of all of these stories--about Michelle Obama's "proud" remarks, about Obama overwhelming losses in West Virginia and Kentucky, about John McCain and George W. Bush denouncing Obama on Iran and comparing it to appeasement of Nazis, about Michael Pfleger's speech at Obama's church denouncing Hillary Clinton--the MRC claims that only one story was negative.
That's utterly preposterous. So I decided to look at what the real news coverage shows. The best source for this is the Tyndall Report, which documents the network news coverage every weekday. A good sample of the news coverage is Tyndall's daily list of the key news stories and the angle being offered. Here's a complete list of all of them in the May 7-June 3 period, with Tyndall's summary of the "angle" of the report:
May 9, NBC: 2008 Barack Obama campaign: Still has to work to attract white support.
May 12, NBC: 2008 West Virginia primary: Rodham Clinton favored, Obama looks ahead.
May 14, CBS: 2008 Barack Obama campaign: Endorsement by John Edwards offsets WV defeat.
May 15, CBS: 2008 issues: diplomatic outreach to hostile powers: Obama's Iran plan equated with Nazi appeasement.
May 16, CBS: 2008 Barack Obama campaign: Denounces fearmongering over diplomacy with Iran.
May 19, CBS: 2008 Barack Obama campaign: Attracts massive crowds, defends wife Michelle.
May 20, CBS: 2008 Kentucky, Oregon primaries: Obama expects to move closer to nomination.
May 26, ABC: 2008 issues: veterans' benefits: Obama and McCain exchange barbs over GI Bill.
May 30, CBS: 2008 Barack Obama campaign: Priest delivers taunting sermon at his church.
June 2, CBS: 2008 Barack Obama campaign: Expects to clinch nomination after SD-Mont vote.
June 3, ABC: 2008 Barack Obama campaign: Factors, tactics that led to nomination victory.
We would normally expect the coverage of Obama in the final month of the campaign to be strongly positive, since he was clinching the nomination and garnering more and more endorsements, leading in the polls against McCain, and Clinton was reducing her attacks as Obama's victory became clear.
Yet Tyndall's analysis would indicate something far different. There were plenty of negative stories on the evening news about Obama.
Tyndall noted that all three networks reported on the right-wing attack on Michelle Obama for saying, "For the first time in my adult life I am proud of my country." On May 13, CBS's Jim Axelrod predicted "a huge win" for Clinton in West Virginia. On May 14, ABC's David Wright reported on Obama's "pitiful performance" there. On May 16, Obama's speech about Iran was called "pugnacious" on CBS, not exactly a positive view.
Evaluating the May 19 broadcasts about McCain denouncing Obama's "inexperience and reckless judgment," Tyndall noted: "CBS' Reynolds made McCain's disdain seem reasonable, characterizing it as being directed towards Obama's assessment of Iran as 'a tiny threat.' The paraphrase of Obama by NBC's Cowan was less tendentious, saying that Iran 'poses only a tiny threat compared with that of the former Soviet Union.' ABC's Wright used a formulation--'the threat posed by Iran is not as serious as once posed by the former Soviet Union'--that was so reasonable that it made McCain appear to be the one whose judgment was unhinged." Of course, McCain was indeed the one whose judgment was unhinged, since no rational person could compare the threat posed by Iran with the former Soviet Union. The fact that the three networks were balanced overall (one pro-McCain, one pro-Obama, one fairly neutral) on a story that clearly showed McCain's flaws indicates how anti-Obama the press has been.
Altogether, there were numerous negative stories about Obama, not just one. If MRC is this wrong, by a factor of ten, in analyzing one month during the campaign, then all of its figures claiming a 34:5 ratio of positive:negative stories about Obama are completely wrong.
Yet Howard Kurtz of the Washington Post wrote uncritically about this ridiculous assertion, giving his biased (and false) views that Obama has received "awfully good coverage" from the press. Kurtz does note that the MRC study ignores John McCain (which makes it entirely worthless as a tool for comparing bias). But here's another example of Kurtz's bias: "Media coverage tends to be more positive when candidates are winning, and Obama did, of course, manage to defeat Hillary Clinton. The report does not include stories since he opened the general-election battle against John McCain. But other studies have found that Obama consistently gets more coverage than his Republican rival." Kurtz omits the fact that these studies, such as one by the conservative Center for Media and Public Affairs, found that Obama had received a far higher proportion of negative coverage than McCain in the general election. Why is Kurtz giving kid glove treatment to a clearly false right-wing study and distorting the results of other studies?
I challenge MRC to release the full details of their study, so that outside observers can determine exactly how they determined "bias" in the media and why their results are so far out of touch with reality.