Crawl Across the Ocean

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

The Conservative Media, Part 3

So it turns out that when I wrote this:
"It's too bad that McGill isn't doing a study of media bias like they did last time. Given that the results showed that the media had a pro-Conservative, anti-Liberal bias (based on their methodology) in the last election, I can only imagine the size of the bias they would have found this time."
a couple of weeks ago, I was guilty of some shoddy research because it turns out that McGill was doing the survey again this time (thanks to commenter Bailey for the tip).

For reference, my post on the study's results for the last election is here.

Unfortunately, the data available (so far) is much less detailed than what was available for the last election but we can still identify the basics:

During the campaign there were 3,753 articles written about the election in the 7 newspapers studied (The Calgary Herald, The Globe and Mail, The National Post, the Toronto Star and the Vancouver Sun, La Presse and Le Devoir).

Of those 3753, 3035 mentioned the Liberal party. Out of those 3035, there were 40 with positive mentions of the Liberal party and 445 with negative mentions of the Liberals, giving a 11 to 1 ratio of negative mentions to positive (slightly higher than last election's 10-1 ratio).

Meanwhile, for the Conservative Party, the figures were 2730 total articles, including 144 positive mentions and 127 negative mentions, for a slightly positive overall slant (the positive mentions were similar to last election, but the negatives were cut in half).

The NDP garnered 2% positive mentions and 3% negative mentions, while the Bloc received 2% positive coverage, 4% negative.

The numbers for the party leaders are quite similar with Martin getting 5 negative mentions for every positive one, while Harper received more favourable than unfavourable mentions.

Of course there may be any number of explanations for these results including the media rooting for the underdog, the media following poll shifts, a general unwillingness to praise the governing party, poorly/well run campaigns and so on. Still, it seems hard to say that media bias was anything but harmful to the Liberals.
(note: I copied this paragraph verbatim from last election's post - nothing has changed).

OK, now here's the funny part. I figured that since McGill was doing the study again, there must have been some coverage of it in the blogs (especially since media bias is such a contentious topic, and actual data on the topic is so rare) so I did a Technorati search and a google blogs search for various search terms like OMPP, McGill Media Study, etc. Here's what I found:

Let it Bleed, written after the first week of the campaign (when the samples sizes were quite small):
"Because the Tories were generally in the forefront of policy announcements during the first week of the campaign, we can assume that they would get more coverage, but, gosh, why would Harper's negatives be so high? Alternatively, why would there be such a discrepancy in the negatives attached to the party as a whole compared to Harper individually? On the third hand, why would the Liberal Party have such high negatives, while Martin personally fares relatively well?"

Although Bob did acknowledge the 'absence of liberal media bias' , later on in the campaign, there was no further mention of the study (that I can see) as the initial negatives for Harper turned positive while the initial positives for Martin turned sharply negative.

Then there was Mark Peters' objective coverage of the study, headlined: "Study verifies media bias against Stephen Harper". I'm sure he'll be running a correction any day now, if he can find time when he's not writing stuff like, "In a world where the media routinely take strips off of Stephen Harper, it is a breath of fresh air to see a columnist dress down Paul Martin."

Lastly, What it Takes to Win's equally objective coverage of the study (quoting Macleans):
"An analysis of newspaper coverage in the opening days of this campaign concludes Stephen Harper received the most negative coverage of the four main party leaders, even more negative than the coverage he got in the disastrous final week of the 2004 election.

Initial coverage of Paul Martin was not only less negative, it was more positive than the waning days of the last campaign, when the Prime Minister rebounded to pull out his narrow victory. "The findings are rather striking," said Stuart Soroka, co-director of McGill University's Observatory on Media and Public Policy (OMPP), which conducted the analysis. "Martin has been doing progressively better in the media over time and Harper has been doing progressively worse."

A fair summary of the results, don't you think? What, no mention that at the same time, the Liberal party coverage was negative and the Conservative party coverage was positive? No follow up when this initial impression turned out to be very wrong? Once again, we await a post on the study's final results.

And that's pretty much all I found. Now, blog searches aren't perfect and I make no claims to be a thorough researcher, but it seems safe to say that, after a small flurry on posts after the first week when there was still a small sliver of anti-Conservative bias which could be imagined from the results, there has been a deep, echoing silence.

Let's summarize. Newspaper coverage of the 2006 election: favourable to the Conservatives and Stephen Harper, extremely unfavourable to the Liberals and Paul Martin. Right wing blogger reaction: Three posts after the first week of the study, one simply reporting the (at that point) mixed results, and two proclaiming evidence of a Liberal media bias. Number of admissions that the study showed (same as last election) a strong anti-Liberal tone in the media: 0

So the next time you see someone complaining about a Liberal media bias in this country, just point them here, and ask them if they've located their missing credibility yet.


  • Thanks for alerting me to the study, Declan. It's interesting that the major media bias this time around was apparently an unsettling and possibly unnatural love for horse-race stories.

    I've really, really become sick of seeing news coverage that thinks the major story of the election is trying to figure out what's in the shiny box that gets opened on election night... especially when the tool they all love to use, polling, has (with a few exceptions; hello, SES) been so spectacularly wrong in the past two campaigns.

    By Blogger Rob Cottingham, at 2:27 PM  

  • Good point Rob. I was planning on looking at the coverage (or lack of coverage) of the issues in a follow-up post.

    By Blogger Declan, at 2:28 PM  

  • McGill hates our freedoms.

    By Blogger Simon, at 7:59 PM  

  • Thank you, Declan, for doing the actual research that lazy sods like myself haven't. I tend to go with the simple: "ah, screw the media" - but it certainly doesn't feel left leaning to me. Didn't the Globe endorse the Cons this time round?

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:07 PM  

  • Thanks, although it wasn't me who did the research, it was those traitourous journalism students at McGill!

    By Blogger Declan, at 10:23 PM  

  • Here's an idea...if a pathetic dumpling and his cohort of arrogant frat boys look like buffoons during the first few weeks of a campaign wouldn't you rather expect that their "negative mentions" would be a bit above zero?

    I would.

    By Blogger Jay Currie, at 2:35 AM  

  • Well I allowed for the possibility that the coverage just reflected the objective 'goodness' or 'badness' of the campaigns. Although I'm not convinced, especially since the numbers were so similar to last election.

    If the numbers had shown positive Liberal coverage and hugely unfavourable coverage of the Conservatives, how many blogging tories do you think would have attributed this to the media effectively reflecting the poorness of their campaign? Would you have?

    Also, when I think frat boys, I think of people who come up with silly, derogatory nicknames for people they don't like, but maybe that's just been my personal experience.

    By Blogger Declan, at 8:44 AM  

  • Here are a few of my own thoughts on the whole "media bias" argument, which can basically be summed up as: to try and argue that the media is biased one way or another is a waste of time.

    1. I highly doubt the ability to quantitatively assess media bias. I've read the McGill study before, and while the methodology is sound in its own way, I can easily see an equally sound methodology arriving at entirely different results. So much of media assessment relies on quantitative judgements this study just seems to be of not much use.

    2. At what point would people ever agree that media coverage has been 'fair'? Do the positive and negative numbers for all parties have to be equal? Is the suggestion that for every negative thing the media says about the Conservatives it has to find something negative to say about the Liberals and vice versa?

    This to me is akin to those people who think that the referee of a hockey or soccer game has only been 'fair' when he calls the same number of penalties for both teams. Rubbish. Maybe one team actually isn't playing by the rules.

    3. Finally, doesn't anyone else think that there's a bit of an eletist flavour to those who argue that there is a media bias one way or the other while also implying that such bias sways elections? If particular Conservative/Liberal bloggers think that they can spot media bias, and therefore aren't affected by it, what makes them think the rest of the Canadian population is too dumb to pick up on what they have noticed?

    "Damn, that Liberal/Conservative media duping the sheep-like plebs of Canada into voting Conservative/Liberal!"

    It doesn't show much faith in one's fellow citizens or their ability to responsibly participate in democracy.

    Post Script: McGill does not have an actual journalism school and therefore any journalism students. It does have the student paper the 'McGill Daily' sometimes referred to as "McGill's unofficial J-school" whose writers and editors often go on to real journalism jobs, such as alumnus J. Kelly Nestruck

    By Blogger Matthew, at 9:57 AM  

  • Some interesting points Matthew.

    For 1), your logic would seem to suggest the abandonment of attempts to quanitfy anything subjective. You must really suffer during the Olympics!

    Certainly there is subjectivity involved but that doesn't make the results meaningless or not indicative of any objective reality.

    2) I couldn't agree more - but don't tell me, go tell all the right-wing folks who are constantly whining about Liberal media bias.

    3) This is similar to what came up in my post on the effect of TV on the campaign. I think the real arrogance is in assuming that we are immune to influences such as the media rather than in assuming that we are not.

    As for the post-script, I didn't know that McGill has no j-school but I did know that the people doing the survey were not journalism students. I realize that sometimes it's hard to tell in print how serious I am being, so, for the record, I don't really think the surveyors are traitourous either :)

    By Blogger Declan, at 5:25 PM  

  • So thats agreement on 1.5 out of 3?

    I suppose that's not bad for the blogosphere.

    I wasn't trying to be snarky with the post-script, just being a McGill grad (B.A '04) I never miss an opportunity to give out unsolicited information about the alma mater.

    By Blogger Matthew, at 10:48 AM  

  • I was out of the country for 15 months and missed a lot of the election coverage. Whats also changed is my city of residence from Ottawa to Vancouver. Am I imagining things, or has the newspapers' focus shifted? When I left it was a constant scandal-search, with the Liberals' dirty laundry being aired on the front page nearly everyday. Now I can't find mention of the PM in the first 5 pages of the newspaper. Your thoughts?

    By Blogger DaveHooper, at 3:35 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home