Media bias? Not so much

By Chris Daly 

Michelle Bachmann, a former flavor-of-the-week in the lengthy, fickle Republican primary campaign for the presidential nomination, has a gripe. Not surprisingly, she is complaining about the media.

This, of course, is a time-tested tactic for Republicans, especially when they are feeling politically desperate. Bachmann claims to have caught CBS News in a “gotcha” moment that she believes confirms her suspicions of liberal bias at CBS. Now, it may well be that there are liberals at CBS, but this episode does not prove her point. In fact, I believe it proves the opposite point.

Briefly. . . As recounted in today’s NYTimes, the guy in charge of political coverage at CBS, John Dickerson, was caught doing his job. He was trying to find an online guest for a show he was orchestrating that would follow the latest Republican debate on Saturday night. In an email to colleagues, he said he would rather “get someone else” other than Bachmann.

His reason? She was “not going to get many questions” and “she’s nearly off the charts” in the polling of voters’ preferences.

(Dickerson’s big mistake was that he included a Bachmann aide among the people in the list of addresses for that particular email, so his thinking went unfiltered to the Bachmann communication director, who then did the professional thing and tried to make hay out of it, in a Facebook blast and elsewhere.)



Back to Dickerson’s email.

If we look at what he actually said, it appears that his criteria for choosing the guests to pursue were non-political, non-partisan, and non-ideological.

Like any good producer, he wanted a “hot” guest — hot in the sense of someone who is trending, someone who is going to create or amplify buzz, someone who is going to add to CBS’s ratings. He does not want someone who was last week’s news. Simple as that.

And the facts bear him out: Bachmann did indeed get few questions in the debate and little air time, and she is dying in the latest polls. (CBS’s own latest poll had her in 6th place with just 4% support.) That is not to say that she could not surge again; if she does, Dickerson and every producer, host, and booker in politics will be chasing her. Not because they like or dislike her and not because they agree or disagree with her. It will be all about blowing on the hot coals.

In his email, Dickerson could be properly charged with telling “vicious truths.”

Was he ruthless? Yes.

Was he liberal? No.

Even the awful site Big Journalism almost got this right. In fact, the blogger

p.s. For another day: What about Bachmann’s implicit claim? Do the news media formulate common policies, then execute them in concert? (Hint: people in the news media can’t agree on whether to capitalize “president” !)






1 Comment

Filed under broadcasting, Journalism, media, Politics

One response to “Media bias? Not so much

  1. Great post.

    The more I study media bias, the more it occurs to me that coverage tends towards the extremes because viewers “vote” with their eyeballs. We get a disproportionate amount of scrutiny on sexual harassment allegations for a variety of reasons, but one of them is certainly because the story line is driving up viewership. Combined with the amount of bandwidth dedicated to the news, media outlets are motivated to keep a hot story alive by digging up all kinds of corner cases, then sensationalizing them as “new developments.” In contrast, giving Michelle Bachmann more air time than she has viewing interest does not make sense for the network. It’s an inexact science, but their job is to promote viewership … which drives ad revenue …which increases company profits, equity value, and personal paychecks.

    It’s tempting to see a conspiracy here, but I think this is mostly just capitalism in action.


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