At the start of each party's convention this year, a study was released charging the media have favored George W. Bush over Al Gore so far in Campaign 2000. In each case, the same press, which ignore any study, finding or poll suggesting a liberal bias, jumped all over the results.
To be sure, the organizations performing these studies are no left-wing Democrat mau-mauers, though I question the unequivocal "nonpartisan" label being placed on one group headed by a former media reporter from the Los Angeles Times. Simply judge these studies by whether they prove what they claim, and you'll find what any serious journalist examining them knows: The evidence isn't there.
Why? Because neither the Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) nor the Center for Public Affairs (CMPA) actually measured the entire election cycle. Both studies skipped entire weeks, even months, when Governor Bush took high and inside fastballs from the national press. Do you recall, for example, the press frenzy over Bush's refusal to stop the execution of convicted murderer Gary Graham? The media hammered him for weeks on end. How about the endless did-Bush-do-cocaine onslaught? Believe it or not, neither study measures these stories.
But that's not the impression the average American would receive from the excited media coverage. Hailing the PEJ study headed by former reporter Tom Rosenstiel, who has consistently complained about anti-Clinton bias, CNN's Judy Woodruff declared: "A common complaint among conservatives (in 1992 was) that the news media are biased against Republicans, but this year's GOP standard bearer has little to complain about." According to PEJ, she said, "Democrat Al Gore was far more likely to be the subject of negative news stories this year. ... When the media reported on Bush, it was more likely to deal with positive themes." One has to assume, based on Woodruff's phrase "news stories this year," that PEJ had been counting all the stories all year long. It couldn't be further from the truth.
Actually, the PEJ study ignored four-fifths of this year's campaign news (it looked at one sample week from five of the six months), and then the researchers whittled down their study to comments about six pre-selected "themes," period. This study is about as comprehensive with statistics as James Carville has hair.
The same inaccurate formulation came in coverage of the CMPA study. Los Angeles Times reporter Brian Lowry wrote: "Despite what some perceive as liberal bias within major media outlets, network news coverage of the presidential campaign has thus far favored Republican nominee George W. Bush, according to an analysis by the Center for Media and Public Affairs."
"Thus far"? Far from it. The CMPA study stopped in March. More telling (or less telling?), it only studied broadcast evening news shows -- no morning news shows, "60 Minutes," no "Nightline," no "Meet the Press." And here's the kicker: The only post-primary Bush vs. Gore evening news coverage CMPA studied was the week of the GOP convention, which included no prime-time convention coverage. Nonetheless, CMPA head Robert Lichter made a rather emotional evaluation for a nonpartisan source: "This is a man-bites-dog story for Republicans, who love to hate the media."
Since when is it a "man-bites-dog" story that the sources interviewed by the networks at a Republican convention would tend to favor their nominee? Could you find a more atypically positive week for Republicans than their convention week? CMPA's prominent pro-Bush convention numbers (also glowingly recited by Charles Osgood on CBS Radio News) don't count questions about the "hard-line" platform or the "inclusion illusion" of a mostly white GOP.
Isn't this ironic? By publicizing Swiss cheese studies which claim to disprove a liberal bias while ignoring nearly every scientific study proving a liberal bias, the media against have proven a liberal bias. The average reader would get the false impression that the only serious students of media coverage agree that the media aren't liberal.
These selective studies are going to look strange this fall, when every Republican campaign decision reflects fear of the media, while every Democratic decision reflects confidence in media sympathy.
If the media are pro-Bush, why is the Bush campaign running a toothless "Change the Tone" campaign instead of focusing like a laser beam on Gore's illegal fundraisers or sleazy immigration-pumping voting schemes?
If the media are pro-Bush, why did the networks give the Democrats more podium time for their convention, with the toughest question facing Gore coming out of Los Angeles being "What were you thinking when you planted that kiss on Tipper?"
If the media are pro-Bush, how can Al Gore -- the No Controlling Legal Authority Buddhist monk-tapper who lies endlessly on the campaign trail -- present with a straight face the promise that he is the future of campaign finance reform and family values?
Pro-Bush media? That's fiction, not news.