The general-election campaign for president is not yet under way, but clearly, some in the media have entered the Utterly Ridiculous Zone. On CNN's "Reliable Sources," host Howard Kurtz hailed an "eye-opener: the candidate with the best coverage during the presidential primaries was Mitt Romney. And the worst? Barack Obama."
That's not eye-opening. It's a declaration that you're blind and deaf, and your olfactory glands are shot to pieces. When something smells as bad as this, odds are it's rotten.
The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism — to be precise, former Los Angeles Times media reporter Tom Rosenstiel and former Boston Globe media reporter Mark Jurkowitz — found an easy mark in their old colleague, the former Washington Post media reporter Kurtz.
Kurtz announced: "Here are the numbers: from January through mid-April, Romney's media coverage was rated 39 percent positive, 32 percent negative. And President Obama: just 18 percent positive, 34 percent negative. ...What accounts for the huge disparity between two candidates?"
Try "nonsensical science." The "huge disparity" comes from a screwy methodology that ridiculously expands the concept of "news media" to include "coverage and commentary on more than 11,500 news outlets" and analyzed by a computer software program. Eleven thousand-plus "news" outlets, as identified and examined by an impersonal set of computer formulas? Any armchair analyst would tell you at this point that you could throw this "study" away; it is meaningless.
Pew also separately claims to review "hundreds of thousands" of blogs, which means that a) the few dozen top-ranked influential blogs are submerged in a blur with every obscure blog unknown to man; and b) since it includes blogs that are informational and opinionated, this ain't about news.
How is the so-called "objective" national media presenting this presidential race? Why are we assuming Pew is offering a real answer? Reporters such as Kurtz are better than this and should be asking skeptical questions about their bizarre research methods.
The Pew study was designed to review "assertions" within coverage, and then tag it as "positive," "negative," or "neutral." The key to understanding their numbers is that they incorporated horse-race assessments into their measure of good and bad press.
In fact, the overwhelming focus of the "news" coverage they studied was focused on strategy and tactics, not on public policy. If Obama is ahead, it's "positive coverage"; if he's behind, "negative." This is foolish.
They're not using their computer programs to find an ideological bias, but a bias that assigns a vaguely positive sheen to candidates when they win. When Romney won in Michigan, his Pew positives increased. When he won in six more states, he got his "best coverage" of the year to date.
Mark Jurkowitz explicitly proclaimed on CNN "Winning begets good coverage ... and losing begets bad coverage." So Romney merely winning primaries loads up his "positive coverage" numbers, while Obama had no primaries to win.
Pew also pulled this trick back in October, claiming that Rick Perry was getting much better press than Obama. How does that one smell to you? You can see how much Perry's campaign succeeded with the so-called negative-toward-Obama press.
Meanwhile, current Washington Post media reporter Paul Farhi was also dismissing the notion that the public should perceive the press as favoring Obama's re-election. After a nod to conservative academic Tim Groseclose, Farhi presented a liberal named David D'Alessio to proclaim the notion of a liberal bias favoring Democrats was a big nothing-burger.
D'Alessio's so-called "meta-analysis" of bias studies in presidential elections from 1948 to 2008 found that "left-leaning reporting is balanced by reporting more favorable to conservatives," and so over the decades, "The net effect is zero."
The Post reporter even brought in tired radical left-winger Eric Alterman to make the old claim that the media are so traumatically hounded by conservative media critics that they bend over backwards to be kind to Republican candidates. If you buy all these assertions, you'll also buy that Romney travels from state to state on a magic carpet.
The media's homegrown experts are not displaying an actual interest in measuring bias seriously, as much as they are dying to dismiss it flippantly. They don't want the public to suspect the media are more dedicated to promoting Obama's path to victory than the public's "right to know." But the public can smell it.
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