T Nation

Media Bias in Election Reporting

I noticed this too – pretty pathetic. Also, I want to know what they were doing leaking raw exit poll data (which they know is generally unreliable, and proved especially unreliable this election)…

http://instapundit.com/archives/018985.php

November 03, 2004

MEDIA BIAS IN CALLING THE STATES? Generic Confusion notes:
http://genericconfusion.blogspot.com/2004/11/narrow-margins-of-victory.html
“All close Kerry states are listed as Kerry pickups. All close Bush states are listed as undecided.”

Yes, why is Wisconsin called for Kerry already?
http://nytimes.com/ref/elections2004/2004WICounty.html
Only 99.3% of the vote is in with 1,466,963 (49.3%) for Bush and 1,480,256 (49.8%) for Kerry. I did notice on TV this morning that Fox hadn’t called Wisconsin yet. The NYT also hasn’t called Wisconsin. There is a .5 percentage point difference in Wisconsin with .7% of the vote still to count. In Ohio, which is getting so much attention, the percent counted is listed as 100 and Bush has 51.0% over Kerry’s 48.5%.
http://nytimes.com/ref/elections2004/2004OHCounty.html
That’s a 2.5% point lead. How can anyone call Wisconsin before Ohio and expect to escape charges of bias?
posted at 09:30 AM by Ann Althouse

Oh man, I think people are going nuts with the media bias thing. To me, it looked like the media was trying to create a close race, an emergency, a situation where the winner couldn’t be determined…

That’s not a bias towards either candidate, but a bias towards making the election more exciting and selling more soap during the commercials. That is the underlying bias.

Get off it already.

vroom, you need to “get off it.” The mainstream media was biased through the enitre election. Where do I begin? Dan Rather? The outrageous claims made about missing explosives? The Michael Moore fanfare? Some liberal pollsters and exit pollsters? Enough!

When you deliberately hold up a race when the democrat is losing that is not to sell soap, it’s to change peoples minds.

Maybe slightly off this subject, but I think it’s time to send that blithering fool Sam Donaldson out to pasture where he can spend his days eating grass and gazing blankly at passing cars.

Watching ABC “blame” Bush’s victory on moral issues, saying that the U.S. has more in common with Nigeria and Saudia Arabia than “civilized Democracies” in Western Europe was priceless for me.

Zeb,

What are you smoking? The thread is talking about election day coverage, not the entire election – didn’t we aleady beat the media bias issue dead horse enough already? Why backtrack now?

By the time they were holding up the works by yammering how close it was, the votes had already been cast. There were no minds left to change.

vroom:

My point, which you obviously missed, was to direct your attention to the fact that there was media bias on election night, just as there was during the entire election.

You see in America the polls close three hours later on the west coast. You do know this right? When you hesitate on declaring an obvious winner at anytime between 9:00 and 12:00 midnight Eastern time that enthuses the opposition on the West Coast.

Oh…and who do you think was giving us that ridiculous exit polling data? Gee vroom do you think those numbers were inflated in Kerry’s direction to depress the Bush vote that had yet to turn out?

By the way, I don’t smoke anything, how about you?

From a good article on winners and losers from the election by Peggy Noonan:

EXCERPT:

Who was the biggest loser of the 2004 election? It is easy to say Mr. Kerry: he was a poor candidate with a poor campaign. But I do think the biggest loser was the mainstream media, the famous MSM, the initials that became popular in this election cycle. Every time the big networks and big broadsheet national newspapers tried to pull off a bit of pro-liberal mischief–CBS and the fabricated Bush National Guard documents, the New York Times and bombgate, CBS’s “60 Minutes” attempting to coordinate the breaking of bombgate on the Sunday before the election–the yeomen of the blogosphere and AM radio and the Internet took them down. It was to me a great historical development in the history of politics in America. It was Agincourt. It was the yeomen of King Harry taking down the French aristocracy with new technology and rough guts. God bless the pajama-clad yeomen of America. Some day, when America is hit again, and lines go down, and media are hard to get, these bloggers and site runners and independent Internetters of all sorts will find a way to file, and get their word out, and it will be part of the saving of our country.

no
no bias at all

Libertarian candidate Badnarik and Green Party candidate Cobb both were arrested in St. Louis when they tried to go into the building to join the debate. Funny thing is that there was next to no media coverage on this. Wonder why that is. I consider it pretty significant. Maybe because they know that if either of these candidates were allowed to debate with Bush or Kerry they’d make them look like fools.

Zeb,

Really? So last election when they went back and forth on Florida and caused a big fruhaha, that was better than being a little cautious this time?

I heard the words, but during the election I also saw the numbers, it showed Bush ahead in Ohio ever time they displayed the stats. They said it was too close to call.

I guess you see this as a signal for Californians to vote liberal all of a sudden? Maybe you should start smoking something?

I think the only thing that would have the media be corect, in your opinion, is if they asked you your opinion and then reported it word for word. Why not just start your own media empire?

I’m sure it would be “fair and balanced”.

vroom:

News Flash: The last election was not this election! A little caution is a fine thing. Waiting for hours when 99% of the vote is returned in order to bolster Kerry’s chances is biased! Get it yet? Probably not…

There was plenty of liberal bias during this election as I have already pointed out. There was also plenty of it during all of the past elections, Presidential or otherwise.

Perhaps being a liberal yourself you really don’t get it. Most liberals never really see what all the complaining is about. In their world it’s only fitting and proper to trash Bush, skew the numbers, and drink the liberal kool aid offered up by the mainstream liberal media.

Open wide vroom…

Holy crap, by the time 99% of the vote was returned, the polls should have been closed everywhere.

Also, you do realize that there are other votes that still remain to be counted, right now. Perhaps provisional ballots and absentee ballots.

Maybe the media felt it should wait either until the parties figured out who should concede or until the state involved certified the election due to mathematical possibilities.

As the republicans always like to tell liberals, there aren’t that many conspiracies! Anyhow, did FOX call it early, or were they part of the liberal conspiracy?

Not everything is political. Heck, a lot of my posts are apolitical, not that anybody can see that around here. There is more to life than politics.

vroom:

It’s not up to the media to wait for the parites to figure anything out. It’s up to them to put forth the facts as they come in. When a candidate is obviously beaten, it’s time to call it. The mainstream liberal press was hesitant to do that this year.

Yes, there is more to life than politics. One such thing is telling the truth. Fox did call “it” before the other liberal media, did you catch that? I was flipping around the various stations (my wife hates that) and caught it, as well as catching how down in the mouth some of the CNN reporters were. One female reporter (cannot think of her name) looked like she was going to cry when she had to announce that Bush won Fla.

As far as votes being certified etc. The very first election according to my recolection where the loser did not concede on that evening, or at least early in the morning was four years ago when Al Gore came so close.

I would hate to see a pattern develop where everytime a candidate thinks he can battle it out in court he waits. I give John Kerry some credit for conceding when he did. However, he should have done it earlier. According to some accounts he would have, had it not been for his trial lawyer running mate John (I’m gonna sue yea) Edwards, who did not even want to concede at the time Kerry eventually did.

There were other elections that were much closer than Bush/Kerry. Kennedy/Nixon; Humphrey/Nixon; Carter/Ford just to name three of the more recent. All three losers conceded that evening, or shortly thereafter into the very early morning.

Nixon, Humphrey, Ford and yes John Kerry were (are) patriots!

I was listening to a talk radio show last night and the host had a san fransisco liberal professor who he regularly has call into the show. The reason a conservative talk radio show wants this guy to call is because he is very straightfoward and completely honest. He is a very very liberal supporter. However, he is upset at the WAY liberals are trying to change things.

He said that most liberals from san fran and boston and new york live in a bubble and think of the rest of the country, especially the south and the midwest as inferior in intelligence and trailer park or family farm types with no worldly experience. He is also frustrated that most liberals were on bush for losing american manufacturing jobs, yet not one wealthy liberal he knows owns an american made car with the exception of a hummer. They all buy foreign cars. (again that he personally knows in san fransisco) This guy was pissed. Then the talk show host kept trying a few times to get the professor to agree with him on policy, and the professor always disagreed and to be honest gave some pretty good intelligent arguments. BUT he kept going back to the point that a very large majority of the liberals in the major liberal cities (if you look at the county election map it pretty much means most liberals) are living in a bubble and are out of touch with the real america. He said that a large number of his personal friends who are professors view themselves as saviors to america by converting college student from a primitive conservative mindset to an advanced liberal mindset. They actually believe we need to be saved! Most of the conservatives I know view liberals as uptight, hostile, snooty, and closed minded. I think this is more validation of why we feel it.

Again this guy is not saying that liberal views are bad, he just thinks the liberal mindset has adopted another elitist movement within it’s ranks and it’s spreading. In his opinion the liberal movement is about to undergo a massive setback if national liberal leaders don’t force change in the attitude of thier ranks.

Just food for thought but maybe he is on the money here. Now I’m sure that almost all of you liberals here will dismiss this immediately, probably as a right wing conspiracy or some other such thing, but this is what this San Fransisco College Professor said. Oh and by the way, when asked if he felt the conservatives had the same issues, he said something to this effect. 'The campaigning of both sides during the election was similar in vitrol, though I’d have to say bush was more critical of kerry’s lack of a plan and was more on the attack of his policy, he personally left his record alone. In general though below the campaign level I have had many talks with conservatives and have had debates in my classes between some conservative students and liberal students. I generally always had to calm down the liberal students while the conservatives seemed to be more at peace with the other side having differing opinions.

Vegita ~ Prince of all Sayajins

On further reflection, I blame the exit polls for a lot of the reluctance of the networks to make calls.

They were viewing the returns through the prism of the exit polls, which showed huge Kerry leads – even as improbable as that was, given they showed Kerry leading in states like South Carolina and Virginia, and leading hugely in states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio. Because of those polling data, the networks were reluctant to make calls when the actual data started to come in from the precincts.

The main question is why the exit polling data were so skewed. I’ve seen a couple theories, and none are persuasive. Two very smart people, Dick Morris and Michael Barone, think that the polls were off by such margins (Off by 20% in PA, which is utterly and completely ridiculous in a sample with an error of around +- 3%), and so consistently in one direction (for Kerry), that someone sabotaged the polls for the purpose of depressing Republican turnout.

I don’t know what to think about it, but I certainly think the firm that did the exit polling has some explaining to do.

[UPDATE:

Mickey Kaus, a liberal who supported Kerry but always thought he was the wrong choice, says the idea of sabotage is paranoid.

He also offers this interesting and amusing, if unlikely, speculation:

http://slate.msn.com/id/2108954/

Excerpt:

Exit Poll Paranoia Special: Did the early exit polls showing Kerry ahead almost across the board actually spur pro-Bush voters to head to the polls?( http://www.mysterypollster.com/main/2004/11/exit_polls_what_1.html ) … Note that, if this happened, it would undermine part of Slate’s rationale for publishing the polls, which is that they don’t affect the result (see., e.g., this Jack Shafer defense from 2000 http://slate.msn.com/id/1004661 ).** … Did Slate (and all the other Web sites that posted exit results) help elect Bush? … More: It’s not clear whether the early exits polls falsely showed good Kerry news (e.g. because pro-Kerry voters were naturally more eager to talk to exit pollsters) or accurately reflected the vote at that point in the day (e.g. because Kerry voters were angrier and voted earlier). … The most paranoid possibility is that the exit polls were somehow intentionally skewed to falsely show a pro-Kerry result, either because the media was in the tank to an a near-unbelievable degree (see Dick Morris for such insinuations http://www.nypost.com/postopinion/opedcolumnists/31590.htm ; Powerline actually declares it “likely”) or because Democratic operatives intentionally gamed the exit polls by having voters or pseudo-voters seek out the poll-takers (a possibility half-suggested by Mystery Pollster before the polls opened and occasionally discussed in the Dem primaries). If so, did the poll-rigging strategy backfire–because, instead of spurring a bandwagon, let’s-have-a-landslide pro-Kerry effect, it prompted a determined pro-Bush evening backlash that tipped Florida and Ohio for the president? Just speculating! …

**: Note that in 2000 Shafer cited a study showing that early election projections dissuaded “fewer than 3 percent of potential voters” from voting. Three percent–or even one percent–is not chopped liver in a 50-50 nation. … Shafer could respond that it’s different if, in 2004, exit poll leaks didn’t discourage Kerry voters but rather encouraged Bush voters. It’s OK, the argument would go, to affect the results by increasing turnout–spurring greater turnout for the candidate “losing” the exits–as opposed to by decreasing turnout–either by encouraging complacency on the part of the winning candidates’ troops or (what doesn’t seem to have happened Tuesday) demoralizing the exit losers. Under this theory, future elections will be more like a ball game–or a vote in Congress, with its running public tally. Exit polls would be made public immediately and voters would know that the candidate who is behind in the fourth inning might still come back to win. There would seem to be big transitional problems with this argument, however–this year a) the voters didn’t know the exit polls could be inaccurate (indeed, despite all the disclaimers, the initial, near-universal assumption in the professional press was that they were accurate; even both candidates apparently believed them); and b) the supporters of the winning candidate in the exit polls (Kerry) didn’t realize that even if the polls were accurate the supporters of the losing candidate in the exit polls (Bush) would learn about them and might stage a comeback. In 2008, they’ll know. This year, the leaked exits may have helped Bush (and helped him in part by inducing some Kerry complacency compared with what would have happened in the evening vote if the leaked exits hadn’t been so pro-Kerry). …

P.S.: If electronic voting machines ever become universally accepted, won’t a complete open-running-tally election become possible, with cumulative, 100% accurate results posted in real time, just the way Congressional votes are recorded? Would we want this system? It might, even more than now, favor the candidate with more money to create an organization that can go pull enough voters from their homes at the last minute.

P.P.S.: Yes, I agree with several emailers who claim that the real “most paranoid possibility” is that the early exit polls were accurate but the vote count was somehow manipulated. Josh Levin argues that this conspiracy theory doesn’t add up.
http://slate.msn.com/id/2109141/
I suspect it will take more to kill it off, though. … 2:39 P.M.]

But, as I don’t want to give the media too much credit for their election reporting overall, please see this interesting analysis from UNC media professor Cori Dauber:

Excerpt:

Last night during the hours when it looked like Kerry was going to win, I wrote down the following:

– the amount of optimism in coverage of Iraq will now skyrocket, and the percentage of good news that will be allowed through will go up.

– casualties will now be put in perspective in coverage, or at least they will be put in context of enemy losses, and progress made.

– suddenly having a mythic ur-plan prior to actual action will be seen as less important to the pragmatic success of the action per se.

But all of those prognostications of course presumed President Bush out of office.

Now the question becomes whether he’s given any honeymoon from the press at all. If he is, will they reevaluate the chances for success in Iraq, or just the way things are going, or just their standards for tone and tenor of coverage?

I’m guessing, “no.”

Many of the people who are angry and hurt right now are angry and hurt because they believe things about the man who won, and the choices he made, that aren’t true or are wildly exaggerated, or don’t know things about the man who lost they should. If the media had made sure they knew what they should have known, they would (if my friends are any indication) voted exactly the same way they ended up voting – but they might feel better about the outcome. And many of the people who are angry and hurt right now are angry and hurt because they know things are true that the media never bothered to report, or know things aren’t true that the media pushed or insinuated, and they have just about had it.

Evan Thomas [of Newsweek] was just on Hardball and absolutely without hesitation reaffirmed his prior claims that the media was in the tank for Kerry. He’s gotten smarter, he isn’t offering point totals any more (but then, Chris Matthews didn’t ask) but it was clear he thought it absurd to even question the idea of media bias in the election.

Unfortunately, the campaign coverage and the war coverage became intertwined and inseparable because it is presented as “Bush’s war.”

I list these stories – or non-stories – not to pick at healing scabs but to make the point.

The other big losers last night were the media.

If their coverage failures over the last few months were not a function of bias but of simple incompetence then there was an awful lot of incompetence going around. Last night and today they seem to have drawn a line. It is, for today, time to play it straight. It’s lets celebrate democracy time.

How long will that last?

Don’t know, but not forever.

Take a look at this list of what’s been going on in the coverage:

  1. Swift boat liars. (or “the discredited Swift boat vets.” or “the Swift boat smears.”) There are parts of the Swift boat vets complaints against Senator Kerry that are not verified (probably are unverifiable. Are these smears? do these arguments prove these vets, many of them also decorated combat veterans, are liars? Or that these men, who viscerally dislike one another, cannot agree about what happened thirty five years ago? Meanwhile how can you can they be called “liars” and “totally discredited” when once you get outside the specifics of what happened under fire (the medal complaints) they kept turning out to be right, and the Kerry campaign kept conceding as much by changing their story?

The notion that the media kept covering these smears and that was unfair to Kerry is the current line, and it’s a myth. The vets were getting no coverage whatsoever until bloggers picked up their stories and began proving them correct. And then most of the coverage they received was entirely negative and misleading.

  1. Form 180. Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the press took the campaign at their word that Sen. Kerry’s military records were available. But he never signed the form that would have released them, they were not released, and even after the Washington Post did a very balanced piece on the controversy – a piece which made clear that they did a Freedom of Information Act request for his records, going further than it seemed any other outlet did, but did not then get almost 100 pages of records, the press seemed utterly uninterested in going any further. To me it isn’t even so much a sense that there’s something else lurking in his records as the frenzy over the President’s records, versus the lack of interest in Kerry’s, and the creation of the sense that Kerry had been utterly open and forthcoming by comparison that resulted.

  2. Senator Kerry went to Paris while still technically a United States military officer, while Americans were being held prisoner, and met with representatives of entities we were at war with. Twice.

Now, maybe you care about that and maybe you don’t. But certainly you can understand why other people would, can’t you? If you know that it happened.

  1. “16 words.” I mentioned this the other day. I don’t really begrudge them that much the original story. Did it go on a bit long? Well, sure, but it wouldn’t have if the White House communications shop had been competent, so who do you blame there? I do begrudge them each time they misrepresented the content of the 16 words (lopping off the part where the President noted he was citing British intelligence, or suggesting he was being specific to Niger, when the statement was about all of Africa, that kind of thing.) But it was what it was.

What I begrudge – a very great deal – was the media’s not giving equal attention to the collapse of that story when it turned out that Joe Wilson was a big, fat liar. Did any outlet give equal attention to the one as to the other?

  1. The Duelfer Report. Was Iraq an imminent threat? No. Were there stockpiles? No. Was Iraq a threat, and did the Duelfer report confirm that was the case? Not if you followed the mainstream reporting of it, with very few exceptions (and those not in straight news articles.)

You might still decide there wasn’t enough of a threat to justify war. But you might better understand why other people disagree.

  1. The choice to dump the story of 380 tons of explosives 36 hours before Election Day. Except the documents proved it wasn’t actually 380 tons, and that the IAEA seals didn’t actually mean anything, and some experts weren’t all that impressed, and the media wouldn’t even defend their original decision once pressed. It wasn’t the story. It wasn’t ever the story. It was the way the story was meant to be originally reported.

  2. National. Guard. Documents. 'nuf said.

  3. Reporting on the draft as if it were a serious story. Over and over and over. I’ll just stop there.

  4. I write everyday on the idea that the reporting on the overall status of Iraq may be problemmatic, so I’ll just list it here. And I’ll add that the reporting of the overall progress in the status of Afghanistan is also problemmatc. As I write every time I post the good news roundups, the point is not ever to down play or to supress the reporting of the bad news. All of that stuff is clearly legitimate news, and critical to the decisionmaking of an informed electorate.

The question is, is it all that’s relevant to the decsionmaking of an informed electorate?

  1. The GWOT. There is the question of whether or not is a war – or a metaphor. Again something I write about all the time.

There is also the question, closely releated, of how great an accomplishment it is that we haven’t been attacked since 9/11. The media’s response here seems to be somewhat contradictory. On the one hand we’re told, no big deal, not a real war, just a metaphor, September 11th was a one-off, we shouldn’t have responded with such an overreaction, waging a global war that’s served primarily to create more terrorists. On the other hand we’re told that we’re no safer because there are constantly more attacks. (Or are all those people who now hate us trained and ready already?) But, again, I write about this all the time.

  1. Last but not least – there is no link, was no link, never has been any link – between Saddam and al Queda, or, in some versions, even between Saddam and terrorists.

That is simply and conclusively false.

You may believe that the connections and contacts over the years were not sufficient to rise to the level of a threat.

That if there was no operational link, there was no justification for action.

But, first, lets have that debate.

And, second, if people are actually told there’s a connection, it’s far easier to understand why their fellow citizens (not to mention their President) saw Iraq as a threat. People told that might not agree, but they would at least better understand that the distance between them and those with whom they are disagreeing isn’t that great.

Speaking of which, it is also not the case that polls prove that people believe Saddam was responsible for 9/11. The argument is a bit complicated, so let me suggest that (while I still believe the study is fatally flawed, as I’ve told you before, I also still believe the outfit itself is a good one, and their explanation of how the polling result was fatally oversimplified in the press was very good.) you take a look at the explanation in this pdf, on pages 3 and 4.

I’m not trying to make trouble, or make waves. I really do doubt that in the end very many people would have felt differently about their vote. But – and this is why my point is critical to looking forward – those whose candidate lost would have felt differently about the width of the gap between themselves and those on the other side, perhaps. And in the meantime those whose candidate won – or who, one way or the other, just think that people deserve to make their decisions with the meximum amount of accurate information, who think that the press should live up to their own rhetoric about their role in relationship to the people, and who worry that utterly independent of support for political candidates, that the press is working to undermine support for the war – move forward casting a eye of deep suspicion towards the mainstream media.

They’ve earned it.

BB:

I heard about an article (I think it’s in the NY Times). Apparently a lead staffer for the Kerry camp actually phoned CBS, CNN, ABC and NBC and asked them not to declare Ohio for Bush as they thought they were going to win it.

Fox was not called (gee I wonder why) and NBC did call Ohio for Bush. The others followed in lock step behind the Kerry request.

Naaa the media isn’t biased…

vroom"

Noooo… the liberal media is not one bit biased:

"Bush’s Coverage Twice as Negative as Kerry’s

President Bush received twice as much negative press coverage as John Kerry did during the height of the presidential campaign, according to a study by the Center for Media and Public Affairs.

Between Labor Day and Election Day, Bush’s coverage was 64 percent negative, with only 36 percent of news stories painting him in a positive light. Kerry, on the other hand, garnered 58 percent positive coverage during the same period.

Story Continues Below

In October, as Bush’s polls began to improve, the press coverage became even more hostile. In the closing four weeks of the campaign, media reports on Bush were 77 percent negative.
Overall, Kerry received the most favorable news coverage of any presidential candidate in the last 25 years, the CMPA found.

Bush’s bad press, however, wasn’t a record breaker. That distinction goes to President Reagan, who, when he ran for re-election in 1984, garnered 91 percent negative press coverage - just before he won a record-breaking 49-state landslide."

Joseph Taranto contributed to this report

[quote]ZEB wrote:
BB:

I heard about an article (I think it’s in the NY Times). Apparently a lead staffer for the Kerry camp actually phoned CBS, CNN, ABC and NBC and asked them not to declare Ohio for Bush as they thought they were going to win it.

Fox was not called (gee I wonder why) and NBC did call Ohio for Bush. The others followed in lock step behind the Kerry request.

Naaa the media isn’t biased…[/quote]

Zeb:

Money quote:

“For much of Tuesday, campaign workers exuded confidence after surveys of voters leaving the polls showed Mr. Kerry with an edge over Mr. Bush. But as the night wore on, the real results told a different story. The critical moment came at 12:41 a.m. Wednesday, when, shortly after Florida had been painted red for Mr. Bush, Fox News declared that Ohio–and, very likely, the presidency–was in Republican hands. Howard Wolfson, a strategist, burst into the “boiler room” in Washington where the brain trust was huddled and said, “we have 30 seconds” to stop the other networks from following suit. The campaign’s pollster, Mark Mellman, and the renowned organizer Michael Whouley quickly dialed ABC, CBS, CNN and NBC–and all but the last refrained from calling the race through the night. Then Mr. Wolfson banged out a simple, two-line statement expressing confidence that Mr. Kerry would win Ohio once the remaining ballots were counted.”