The Subtleties of Media Bias: Spotting Spin

The very competitive GOP presidential primary has produced a thought-provoking dichotomy after each battle — there’s the score and then there’s how the media covers the score.

On Super Tuesday, 10 states were contested. This was the lead paragraph of the NY Times story the next morning:

Mitt Romney appeared to pull off a narrow victory in Ohio on Super Tuesday but lost several other states to Rick Santorum,  a split verdict that overshadowed Mr. Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates and all but ensured another round of intense infighting on the road to the Republican presidential nomination.

Is there any doubt in your mind the writer is hoping the race continues? It makes for good copy and sells more newspapers. But is that lead really an objective treatment of what happened?

Note the subtleties in the lead. There was a consensus Ohio was the big prize on Super Tuesday. Romney won it, yet that win is immediately contrasted to Santorum victories in three states, not with Romney’s wins in five others. The lead suggests the “split verdict” overshadowed Romney’s claim of collecting the most delegates. Who says it “overshadowed” it? That’s the reporter speaking. And what does he mean Romney’s “claim?”  He collected the most delegates. The numbers are what they are.

How often are three items (the number of states Santorum won) referred to as “several?” Wouldn’t you typically refer to three as a few?

Media bias is often a thousand cuts disguised in subtlety.

Here’s a more objective description, very factual, with the appropriate emphasis on states and delegates:

Mitt Romney won twice as many states as his closest opponent on Super Tuesday, including the biggest prize, Ohio. The wins expanded Romney’s lead in the delegate count. Rick Santorum won three states, strengthening  his claim he is Romney’s chief rival.

My analysis is of a news report, not commentary. The pundits are allowed to say whatever they wish and, often times, they have their own agendas. But that’s not news reporting, it is commentary. Unfortunately, the line is getting harder and harder to find.

The writer is a former TV news anchor/reporter and current adjunct media professor.

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Presentation Expert Grades Six Iowa Caucus Speeches

The speeches from the six candidates involved in the Iowa Caucuses were remarkably different — some good, another a little weird, and one downright awful.

The best came from Ron Paul. He spoke to his audience rather than at them. He acknowledged his volunteers were his real asset and those volunteers have generated the most electricity. Nearly 40 percent of those voting were first-time caucus goers and nearly 40 percent of those voted for Paul. Paul’s strong conviction and his consistency on the core issues of protecting individual liberty and cutting runaway spending have struck a chord that all Republican candidates must address. While his “deal breaker” policies (i.e. foreign policy, drugs) will very likely prevent his nomination, his ability to viscerally connect with followers is unmatched in the campaign. Grade: B+

Rick Santorum had a great opener, “Game On,” showing he was now in the first tier after nearly 400 appearances in the state. He emphasized his family values with some poignant examples — his grandfather and his disabled child. They were no doubt heart felt references and they play well to his base. Santorum must be cautious, however, about being over indulgent in this area. The campaign isn’t about him, it’s about them (the voters). His speech tended to meander and went far too long. Quantity is not quality. Grade: B

Mitt Romney was quite gracious congratulating Santorum for both his hard work and for his “victory,” even though the actual result wasn’t known yet. He also saluted Paul. He stayed on message but seemed to be a little bit on auto pilot. Romney is a polished speaker but his potential pitfall is not appearing genuine enough. His policy flip flops make this concern even more critical. Grade: B

Rick Perry was genuine but obviously vague on what he’ll do next. He should have just congratulated the winners, stated his case and left the next step for another day. His “reassess” line created the headline, stepping on everything else. Grade: C-

Michele Bachmann was honestly a little weird. This was a time to speak from the heart, now read from a text. The prepared remarks were not that compelling and she is capable of doing better on her own. Grade: C-

And then there was Newt. Complete Disaster. Anger never sells well in a concession speech. He whined once again about negative ads and then called one of the night’s winners “stunningly dangerous” and another winner, the “Massachusetts moderate” (moderate is a dirty word in a GOP primary). Newt’s fall resulted from his own personal baggage. This speech added some more of it. Grade: F

The writer is a public speaking coach and trainer, former elected GOP official, and media professor.

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