RELEASE OF THE DAY, from the Center for Media and Public Affairs at George Mason University: “TV election news has been hardest on Hillary Clinton this fall, while Barack Obama and Mike Huckabee have been the biggest media favorites, according to a new study. … The study also found that Fox News Channel’s evening news show provided more balanced coverage than its counterparts on the broadcast networks.”
I didn’t like the way this release read as it was lacking in specificity so I hunted down the full PDF file release. That’s when I started seeing problems with this study.
First of all, the FNC newscast that was sampled wasn’t a newscast of the type being shown on ABC, NBC, and CBS. It was in fact the first half hour of Special Report with Brit Hume. But you wouldn’t know that from reading the Politico’s blurb which is reposted identically on the Center’s own website.
More than likely if you read the words “Fox News Channel’s evening news show” you’re going to think of The Fox Report with Shepard Smith. And, arguably, you would be right in believing so. However that’s not the case. Even the PDF refers to Special Report as the “flagship evening news” show on FNC. That’s patently not the case. The flagship show is The Fox Report. Why this detail was omitted is one the Center needs to step up and answer for because it’s not insignificant.
This leads to my second problem with this study; it’s not an apples to apples comparison but an apples to oranges comparison. You look at the format and the style of the newscasts on ABC, CBS, and NBC and they are fundamentally different from what appears on Special Report. Special Report is almost all Politics. The weeknight broadcasts are at best 25%-50% politics, or more, depending on the news cycle. Again, The Fox Report is a better one to one match with those three networks but the hour format would also be a disqualifying factor because with the hour format it gives FNC the wiggle room to be less selective with what it reports vs. the broadcast networks who only have a half hour to cram everything in to. This, incidentally, is also an issue for Special Report because it too is an hour program which gives it more space for more stories.
Then there’s the issue of sampling half of a one hour program versus sampling a full half hour program. You’re getting an incomplete picture by only sampling half the hour program.
The fundamental issue here for me isn’t whether Special Report is more fair or balanced than other networks or not. The issue is doing a 1:1 comparison in the study. If you don’t have a 1:1 comparison; if there are extenuating circumstances or issues which can affect one of the survey subjects but doesn’t affect the others (or vise versa) then the whole study is thrown into question for me.
And then there’s the issue of why CNN wasn’t sampled. Or PBS. Or MSNBC.