One blogger’s personal bridge to nowhere

Covering negatives negatively

In teasingly billing an upcoming story on “media bias,” CNN this morning asked provocative questions as to whether media coverage of Barack Obama was more favorable than that of John McCain.  Turns out, the story was about this Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) study about the proportion of positive, negative, and neutral coverage of each candidate.  And even though the study emphatically did not make a conclusion of “media bias,” the CNN spinsters — knowing full well that this kind of story would attract more attention — nonetheless presented it as such.

That McCain received more unfavorable coverage than Obama is not indicative of bias.  As PEJ explains, it is partially simply a function of how the media covers candidates that are leading or trailing in the polls.  As the study’s authors put it, “winning in politics begat winning coverage.”

But there is another comment to be made here, one that skittish networks that proudly claim to brandish “objectivity” will not raise.  Media coverage of McCain may have been negative because McCain’s political strategy was negative, or, in fact, harmful or even just plain wrong.  PEJ gets to this:

For McCain, coverage began positively, but turned sharply negative with McCain’s reaction to the crisis in the financial markets. As he took increasingly bolder steps to try and reverse the direction of the polls, the coverage only worsened. Attempts to turn the dialogue away from the economy through attacks on Obama’s character did hurt Obama’s media coverage, but McCain’s was even more negative.

Not only do “winning” and “losing” in the polls beget positive and negative coverage, respectively, but the substance of a candidates’ politicking can affect coverage.  This is not something to be shied away from.  Sometimes, one candidate is wrong, and the other is right.  To try to present this otherwise — giving each side an “equal” say — only distorts reality and succumbs to the Fox News-tarnished brand of “fair and balanced” that is coming to dominate our conception of objectivity.

October 29, 2008 - Posted by | media | ,

1 Comment »

  1. […] complained before that the media has a responsibility to “cover negatives negatively.”  Glenn Greenwald — and I feel no qualms about not “balancing” […]

    Pingback by WaPo succumbing to Fox News-ification? « Boondoggle | November 6, 2008 | Reply

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