Sunday, November 4, 2012

Using science to detect bias in the news

From time to time I listen to the NPR - I normally do this when progressive right-wing radio (Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity or Mark Levin) is either off the air, or there is a commercial. And I normally notice the left-wing bias of the reporting quite easily. I remember back in 2008, NPR reported about the epic struggle between Obama and McCain. First, NPR reporter with Obama campaign presented Obama's side - the future president was extensively quoted (at least 2-3 minutes of his speech was run uninterrupted, with the usual theme of evil republicans, president Bush, and how Obama would solve all the problems). Next was the NPR reporter with McCain's campaign. He also quoted McCain's speech - and it lasted something like 10 seconds - McCain speech was limited to his greetings to the audience. It is also a rather normal thing for NPR, when quoting Romney, to put him in context (i.e. quote the Democratic rebuttal), while Obama's quotes are left unchallenged.

I am too lazy to search for transcripts from NPR, so instead I decided to concentrate on CNN - a supposedly mainstream, middle of the road news agency. In order to provide scientific proof of the mainstream media bias, I will compare two recent articles from CNN, which can be found on their site today and which are run concurrently. I will use statistical analysis to compare the reporting on both candidates - and I will let science to show if the conservative claims about liberal bias hold water.

Both articles were written to answer essentially same question:
If Romney takes the White House and If Obama wins a second term

Article #1, A Romney presidency: 'Bringing people together' faces reality check
Analysis: The subtitle itself questions if Romney is honest about his claims that he will bring people together. But it would be more beneficial to look at statistics of who is quoted in the article. It starts with a quote from Romney, 58 words. It then refers to unnamed Romney's critics who believe he is lying (35 words), who also quote Romney out of context to demonstrate his insincerity (17 words). After this, the article quotes a Romney supporter, who attempts to fight back the critics, (72 words). This is followed by a quote from someone from a self-described independent (28 words).  Reid's former spokesman Jim Manley is given his chance to threaten Romney if he tries to push for conservative agenda (57 words). A self-described independent Widmer then proceeds to attack the Tea Party (20 words). After that, another quote Romney, 50 words in all. The article ends with a short quote from Romney strategist, 22 words.

Romney: 108 words (not counting out-of-context quote by Democrats - 17 words)
Romney supporters: 94 words
Independents: 48 words
Democrat critics: 92 words

Article #2, Second Obama term would confront fiscal crisis before inauguration
Analysis: While the subtitle for Romney called into question his sincerity, the Obama article accentuates the difficulties that president Obama would have to overcome.
The article starts with quote from a Democrat who claims that Romney and Ryan "fake compassion". This claim is immediately put in context of evil republicans (13 words). It then proceeds with a account of fiscal difficulties that lie ahead. David Axelrod gives his criticism of the Republican party (54 words). It then quotes Obama (45 words), immediately followed up with a quote from Obama's policy director (30 words). Senator Durbin, a democrat that gives his opinion, (43 words), and some unnamed democrats (19 words). After some indirect quotes from democrats, Durbin manages to put in another 18 words. Barack Obama comes back on the stage with 28 words, and Durbin again (15 words). Obama's strategist kicks in 84 words explaining Obama's agenda for illegal immigration reform. Some unnamed democrats add 16 words of wisdom. President Obama, not to be outdone, offers his opinion about Republicans (57 words), with David Axelrod finishing it (56 words). Unnamed Democrats add their support for the president and their disdain for evil Republicans (122 words). Mitch McConnell (Republican) is quoted (23 words) to show his past disagreement with Obama.  The last quote in the article is from Obama's adviser, 33 words.

Obama: 130 words,
Obama supporters: 503 words
Independents: 0 words
Republican critics: 23 words

Comparison between articles
In the article about Romney, GOP/DNC quote ratio was 2.2
In the article about Obama, DNC/GOP quote ratio was 27.5.

Statistical Conclusion: CNN bias in quoting is about 10:1 in favor of Democrats.

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