{ An Autopsy of Democracy }

Friday, February 17, 2006

"Liberal Media" myth debunked yet one more time

Media Matters -
If It's Sunday, It's Conservative: An analysis of the Sunday talk show guests on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 1997 - 2005

"In 2002, there were more than three conservative journalists for every progressive journalist on Meet the Press, and in 2003, there were more than five conservative journalists for every progressive journalist. . . ."
. . . . . . . .

"Video of Clinton's lie about sex was broadcast nearly five times as often as video of Bush's lie about warrantless domestic spying." . . .

(Do we REALLY need a study here? Must we have think tanks to simply point out the obvious? . . . The answer is YES. Because the baseless, idiotic, self-delusional myth -- no, I think we should just call it a LIE, because mythology as least requires some cleverness and specific detail to come up with -- remains alive and well. God knows why. [I must ask Him some time.])

Media Matters study finds Sunday show guest lists favor conservatives

This week, Media Matters released the results of an exhaustive study of the guests who have appeared on the three major Sunday morning political shows since 1997. The study, covering former President Clinton's second term, President Bush's first term, and 2005, shows classified nearly 7,000 guests by political party and ideology and found that Republicans and conservatives have far outnumbered Democrats and progressives on the Sunday shows.

The study, "If It's Sunday, It's Conservative: An Analysis of the Sunday Talk Show Guests on ABC, CBS, and NBC, 1997-2005," was supervised by Media Matters Senior Fellow Paul Waldman, who holds a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and the author of, among other books, The Press Effect: Politicians, Journalists, and the Stories that Shape the Political World (Oxford University Press, 2002), which he co-wrote with media researcher Kathleen Hall Jamieson. Among the key findings:

The balance between Democrats/progressives and Republicans/conservatives was roughly equal during Clinton's second term, with a slight edge toward Republicans/conservatives: 52 percent of the ideologically identifiable guests were from the right, and 48 percent were from the left. But in Bush's first term, Republicans/ conservatives held a dramatic advantage, outnumbering Democrats/progressives by 58 percent to 42 percent. In 2005, the figures were an identical 58 percent to 42 percent.

Counting only elected officials and administration representatives, Democrats had a small advantage during Clinton's second term: 53 percent to 45 percent. In Bush's first term, however, the Republican advantage was 61 percent to 39 percent -- nearly three times as large.

In both the Clinton and Bush administrations, conservative journalists were far more likely to appear on the Sunday shows than were progressive journalists. In Clinton's second term, 61 percent of the ideologically identifiable journalists were conservative; in Bush's first term, that figure rose to 69 percent.

The study also provides new evidence of the unprecedented positive media coverage from which Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) benefits. Media Matters found that McCain has been by far the most frequent Sunday show guest over the past nine years, making 124 appearances -- 50 percent more appearances than the runner-up, Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. (D-DE). McCain has been granted 86 solo interviews -- more than Biden's total appearances, and nearly twice as many solo interviews as anyone else during the past nine years.

Media Matters' report drew an immediate response from NBC and CBS.

NBC responded by challenging our methodology and calling the study "intellectually dishonest," suggesting that we cherry-picked the time frame included in the study (nine consecutive years) in order to skew the results. Setting aside the question of why one would consider Meet the Press' guest list "balanced" if you have to go back more than nine years to find data supporting that conclusion, it's worth noting that NBC's own data confirms our findings.

NBC's claim that we cherry-picked data is simply amusing in light of the fact that, as Media Matters explained, it pulled a bait-and-switch in its response to our report:

In addition, you write of your figure of 56 percent Democrats to 44 percent Republicans during Clinton's first term: "How different is that from the first term of President Bush? Well, it's basically the same -- according to Media Matters' own findings -- Republicans accounted for 58 percent of all guests on Sunday shows in President Bush's first term and Democrats accounted for 42% of appearances." But here you are comparing not just apples to oranges, but Granny Smiths to Clementines. Those figures -- 58 percent Republicans/conservatives to 42 percent Democrats/progressives during Bush's first term -- represent all guests on all shows, not simply Democrats and Republicans on Meet the Press. The figure for Republicans and Democrats on Meet the Press during Bush's first term, to repeat, was 62 percent Republicans to 38 percent Democrats, a difference of 24 percentage points, twice as large as the figure you offered for Meet the Press during Clinton's first term.

So, NBC argued that Meet the Press' guest list during the first Clinton term was tilted towards Democrats to the same degree that it tilted towards Republicans during Bush's first term. But in so arguing, NBC used data for all Sunday show guests during Bush's first term, not for Meet the Press guests, thus minimizing the actual disparity.

The response by CBS News Public Eye weblog editor Vaughn Ververs was even more curious. Ververs took issue with the entire premise of Media Matters' study, arguing that "the most obvious and troubling" problem with the study is the "intra-party dynamic." Ververs explained:

For example, while Media Matters says it classified former Democratic Senator Zell Miller as a "conservative" for his role as an outspoken critic of his own party, the study also makes much of the fact that Republican Senator John McCain has appeared 174 times in the period covered. There's no doubt whatsoever that Miller supported President Bush's re-election and appeared on these programs as an advocate of his policies, particularly on the war. There's also no doubt that John McCain has built his career largely on being a "maverick" within his own party and someone the media traditionally turns to for Republican-on-Republican criticism.

In other words, in challenging Media Matters' conclusion that the Sunday show guest lists skew to the right, Ververs points to the frequency with which McCain appears on the programs.

The notion of McCain as "independent" and a "maverick" is so deeply ingrained in the minds of many reporters, they actually point to his frequent appearances on the Sunday shows as evidence there is not a rightward tilt to those programs. Never mind that McCain has run for president as a Republican, that he campaigned for George Bush, that he supports the Iraq war. Never mind that NARAL-Pro Choice America has given him a zero rating for the last decade. Never mind that he hasn't received a rating higher than 50 percent from the National Education Association in this century. Never mind that the right-wing John Birch Society gave him a rating of 90 in 2004, or that the Christian Coalition gave him an 83. Never mind his support for diverting taxpayer funds to religious schools, or his support for Social Security privatization. To Ververs, none of that seems to matter; John McCain is the Republican equivalent of Zell Miller.

Ververs went on:

And when it comes to categorizing journalists on the panels, I'm not sure how that works. I'll certainly buy columnist Bob Novak as a conservative, but I think you'd get some real arguments from Republicans by classifying David Broder as a "centrist."

We have no doubt some Republicans would really argue that Broder is a progressive rather than a "centrist" -- but those arguments could hardly be described as "real."

Media Matters' full response to Ververs can be found here; Ververs' response to our response is available here.

Media critic Eric Alterman had a more favorable reaction to Media Matters' study -- and effectively, though indirectly, refuted Ververs' complaints about our classifications:

What's more, despite its having been produced by a liberal think thank, the study's grading of the guests--where the rubber hits the road -- is extremely generous to the right-wing side, and therefore precludes any credible complaints that it's a product of liberal bias. For instance, liberal-hater Joe Klein, together with war-supporters Peter Beinart and George Packer, are coded "progressive," and Cokie Roberts and David Broder, who openly detest both Clinton and Gore while frequently apologizing for Bush--together with former GE chairman Jack Welch and Mrs. Alan Greenspan, Andrea Mitchell--were classified as "neutral." (Remember how quick Mitchell was during the 2004 debates to accuse Kerry of "demagoguery" for daring to criticize her husband?)

Indeed, as far as critical commentary goes, with the occasional exception of E.J. Dionne, there's not a single unapologetic liberal on any of these shows, save perhaps an annual appearance as a kind of anthropological curiosity. Tune in to every show every week for a year, and you are unlikely to see Frank Rich, Paul Krugman, Rick Hertzberg, Harold Meyerson or anyone associated with The Nation, The American Prospect, The Washington Monthly, The New York Review of Books, Salon, In These Times, Mother Jones or even the liberal remnant inside The New Republic.

When you think about it, it is a tribute to the American people that they remain as receptive to liberal arguments as they do, given how infrequently they hear them.

Media Matters' Sunday show study also drew the attention of conservative attack organizations. Desperate to maintain the imbalance in Sunday show guests that serves them so well, RightMarch.com -- a conservative activist organization with ties to Randall Terry and Lou Sheldon -- and other groups have lashed out at the Media Matters study. The well-funded RightMarch.com, which reportedly sent millions of emails to its list during the Terri Schiavo debate, has sent an email to its subscribers urging them to write letters to newspapers complaining about "how liberally biased the mainstream media is." The RightMarch.com email denounced Media Matters' study as "totally skewed" and "obviously WRONG" -- though not only did it offer no specific criticism of the study or its methodology, another study it touted as "a SERIOUS study on media bias" has been discredited.

Click here to counter this desperate and baseless attempt by RightMarch.com to undermine our study.

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