From Pine View Farm

Ignoring the Obvious: Press Coverage Dept. 0

I recently listened to this segment of Talk of the Nation (follow the link to listen to it):

Candidate Barack Obama received largely favorable news coverage during the campaign. Some critics believe that softer coverage has continued since he became President. Do you think journalists are doing a good job, and what questions do you wish they would ask?

One of the callers referred to Deborah Howell’s November 9, 2008, column, in which she analyzed the Washington Post’s campaign coverage (follow the link for the full column, which includes a lot of numbers and covers much more than the op-ed page):

The op-ed page ran far more laudatory opinion pieces on Obama, 32, than on Sen. John McCain, 13. There were far more negative pieces about McCain, 58, than there were about Obama, 32, and Obama got the editorial board’s endorsement. The Post has several conservative columnists, but not all were gung-ho about McCain.

The caller posited that, since the number of stories favorable to Obama was greater than the number of stories favorable to McCain, the press therefore wanted Obama to win. (Read Ms. Howell’s column; the caller put words in her mouth. The caller’s word-twisting was positively Rovian and, laudably, the panel politely called him on it.)

His reasoning is purebred invalid syllogism:

a=b, c=d, therefore a=d

The panel on the show took issue with the caller’s assertion of favoritism on two points:

  • Reporting a more favorable story doesn’t mean that the reporter is rooting for the subject of the story.
  • Reporting a more favorable story may reflect who’s in the lead; winners tend to get better coverage than losers.

Note that, in the U. S. press, George Washington gets more favorable coverage than King George III of England. Left unsaid in the discussion:

Reporting a more favorable story, whether it’s a story about a football team, a restaurant, a television show, or a political candidate, may reflect nothing more than that the subject of that story is better than the competition.



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