What is and isn't biased media coverage of campaign?

Some recent news articles saying media bias in the campaign coverage has been demonstrated, and reference studies finding that the ratio of favorable to unfavorable stories is different for different candidates. Though I have not found it explicitly, I understand there to be an implied connection, namely that if the ratios are different for different candidates the coverage is biased.

But bias is supposed to represent a skewing of the truth, isn’t it?

If one candidate is really better, honest reporting would have a different ratio for that candidate, right?

On another story, the stories about Hurricane Katrina were all negative regarding the storm - that is, none of them took the position that the storm was a good thing. That doesn’t represent bias, does it?

It’s an impossible topic to really figure out, in my opinion. I listen to the right-wing idiots on the radio in the car, and to Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann at night on TV. Both sides think that the media is unfair to their side because of what they’re covering or what they’re failing to cover. Arguments can be made both ways:

  • The media skewered a Good And True Hardworking American Voter Joe the Plumber! They’re in the tank for Obama!

  • The media isn’t talking about the Keating Five or Palin’s secessionist husband! They’re in the tank for McCain!

I will agree with part of your premise though about the hurricane. McCain’s campaign has been negative, reckless, and angry. How can the coverage put a nice face on that for a positive story? Today in North Carolina, Governor Palin called Obama a terrorist commie muslim activist. She also gave her $2300 jacket to a local homeless man…

There are different flavors of bias. One type of bias can be giving more favorable coverage to one candidate over another. That appears to have happened in this election, with Obama recieving more favorable coverage than McCain.

The media is not supposed to make the subjective determination that one candidate is “better” than another. They are supposed to report the facts–Candidate X appeared at location Y and said Z. It is, or should be, up to the reader/viewer to determine whether Z is good or bad.

So if, for example, candidate X stabbed some innocent person in the face, the media shouldn’t cast any moral judgement?

I think I get what you’re saying, but I don’t think eliminating “bias” as you defined it is feasable or desirable.

The study makes the mistake of equating number of good things the media has said about Person A over number of good things media has said about Person B to mean the media prefers Person A over Person B.

Or do segments on Thailand’s corrupt government make the media anti-Thailand?

I agree. I think breaking things down in terms of “the media favors THIS CANDIDATE!” (almost always a Democrat, as these charges go) misses the point. I’ve never seen a measurement of that kind of bias that looked reliable, either.

Forget about moral judgement. If one candidate is giving speeches in front of 50,000 cheering voters, and the other is addressing an empty chair convention in a church basement, how can you give them both equally favorable coverage? One campaign is swirling the bowl, the other is seemingly charging to victory, simply reporting the facts will give one more negative coverage than the other.

McCain even went to war against the media because they ganged up on his running mate with “gotcha” questions like “What newspapers do you read?” :rolleyes:

Frankly, McCain got a lot more out of the media than he deserved to get, namely a free way to publicize his increasingly ridiculous attacks on Obama’s character, while never having to face those attacks himself.

Define “better” for all 301,139,947 of us and then we can talk.

How much moral judgment does it take to report that Candidate X was then handcuffed and taken to jail. He’s charged with attempted murder, assault with a deadly weapon, and is expected to be arraigned tommorrow in the Y County Criminal Court. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of ________ years in prison.

No need to add “And he’s a poopie head”. Save that for the editorial page.

Let me know when you find any media that actually conforms to that standard besides possibly the AP news bulletins.

Reporting on an election for one of the most powerful jobs in the world should be objective, but that doesn’t entail reserving all judgment. And it also does not mean not reporting critically on morally questionable strategies, if they really seem to be strategies, for instance.

I think there is such a thing as neutral reporting on candidate activities. For example, a source could report every rally held by any candidate, and say where and when and add a transcript of their remarks.

There is certainly a kind of inaccurate reporting that favors one candidate over another. I think Keith Olbermann is much liklier to report an embarrassing story about McCain than about Obama (I get this impression from having watched him often because I enjoy him).

Troy McClure, I disagree with your implication that “better” is generally hard to define for a cadidate. Certainly in some cases it’s hard, because ending the war quickly seems like a good thing to some of us and a bad thing to others of us. But candidates may be caught lying, or selling their influence, or confusing important objective facts, or contradicting themselves, or failing to deliver on past promises. Doing these is always “worse” than not doing them.

I ask the OP with an answer already in view. I think that news agents can mislead the electorate by systematically favoring one candidate over another, and that this is harmful, and that some examples of doing this are objectively testable and some are not. It would be nice if this kind of misleading would be deplored and reduced. And, a news agent can show more pleasing stories about one candidate and less pleasing ones about another because the candidates deserve these. Some of the ways of doing this are testable and some aren’t. Finally, these effects ought to have names, and I think the name “bias” is a good name for the first one, the “misleading” one, and not a good name for the second one, the “pleasing” one. This is consistent with my understanding of “bias” in scientific discussion. But studies I see about “media bias” seem to apply the term “bias” to both of these; thus the posting.