Tag Archives: bias

The tone of coverage in the London Olympics may go any way the wind blows

The Oxford English Dictionary identifies 171 thousand words in the current-usage English language. Which to pick from when reporting a story?

The choice is not a small one. For example, was there a “controversy” or a “dust-up” surrounding that call in the volleyball match? Maybe a “fire storm?” Those three choices – all describing the same event – can have profound impact on how the audience views the games. And research out of Penn State suggests, based on analysis of the Beijing Games, that the weather has a big effect on what choices American journalists make.

The study matched the positive and negative tone of coverage to weather conditions and air quality. And the results were consistent:

By using computer-aided content analysis, this study examined how Beijing’s weather, which was measured by the Air Pollution Index (API), temperature, and cloudiness (sunny or cloudy), might influence the coverage of the 2008 Beijing Olympics by 4 U.S. newspapers. The results demonstrated that the API and temperature were significantly related to the negativity of the news reports that were filed from Beijing. Specifically, as Beijing’s temperature rose or air pollution level increased, U.S. journalists used more negative words in reporting on the Olympics. The temperature was also correlated with the negativity of China-related reports. The findings provided evidence that journalists’ news decision making might be influenced by a greater variety of factors than we previously thought.

Basically, when US reporters’ hair got frizzy, they started talking shit about China. Which, let’s face it, is understandable in a country where they had to shut down all manufacturing in an entire city just so Olympic athletes didn’t die.

Conflation in Infographic Form

What an odd juxtaposition. Pew Research conducts a poll asking people if they will watch the President’s speech on jobs and the Republican Presidential Primaries. Now, I realize the media did a great job manufacturing a crisis over the whole scheduling snafu between these two. But really? Could they be more different?

One is a speech by an actual sitting president about a hugely-pressing issue. The other is a bunch of near-strangers discussing what they *might* do if, a year and a half from now, they’re allowed to become president. One doesn’t require or preclude the other; they don’t even happen on the same day, if you noticed. But Pew puts the two together as though there was some insight to be gained in their comparison.

Most Plan to Watch Obama Jobs Speech | Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Brown University Confirms: You’re Not an Idiot

A new study conducted by researchers at Brown University concluded that while the endorsements of Presidential candidates did affect voter support, the bias of the newspaper in question affected the endorsement “bump.”:

Futurity.org – Voters saffy to newspaper bias:

The least credible endorsements were for Al Gore from The New York Times and for George W. Bush from the Dallas Morning News, which convinced less than 1 percent of their readers to switch allegiance to the endorsed candidate.

By contrast, the endorsement with the largest effects came from the Chicago Sun Times and the Denver Post, both of which had surprising endorsements. The Chicago Sun Times was predicted to endorse Gore with a probability of 58 percent, but instead endorsed Bush, while the Denver Post endorsed Gore even though it was only predicted to do so by a probability of only 35 percent.

This study only concerns itself with Presidential elections. That makes sense because an election has a specific outcome, which makes interpreting the results of an experiment easier. The study also seems to concern itself only with party switching at election time. While this can be an important indication for a segment of the population, is not by itself determinative of how we might react to endorsements as a whole. For example, what about those who chose to sit out an election?

But the presumption is that the basic principle demonstrated in the study can extend itself to all facets of politics and policy. We know who is biased and who is not and we act on that information accordingly. This brings me back to a point I make often about media bias: not only do we as readers not require the opinions of journalists, but we’re also not so weak-willed as to require them or be overly-influenced by them. We’re not going to abdicate our sovereignty to just any dick with a job at the local newspaper.

This is of course different from a daily bombardment of propaganda such as is the norm on cable news nets. But the problem as I see it has been that mainstream media outlets in modern times have been so quick to cover any sense of bias up that they’ve turned themselves into bland and ultimately uninformative pablum. Cable news provides the color and flavour people want – albeit largely empty-calorie viewing with not much in the way of facts.

In an era when we find ourselves very divided on big social and economic issues, we don’t need more firebrands, certainly. But perhaps if journalists were more trusted to provide us the opinions they’ve formed over years of covering their specific niches, our culture would be less-inclined to listen to the uninformed opinions of demagogs with a financial interest – not in policy or social good, but in the opinions themselves.

Gallup Doesn’t Know the Difference Between Ideology and “Attention”

If I told you Conservatives weren’t paying much attention to the state of our environment, would you be surprised? If I told you Liberals weren’t paying very much attention to the state of our Faith Based Initiatives, would you clutch the pearls in horror and confusion? I suspect not.

Why, then, does Gallup not notice the difference between those who say they’re watching the debt debates “very closely” and those who are watching “somewhat closely” as what they are: Conservatives and Liberals, respectively.

The problem isn’t just that they haven’t broken down the “watching closely” and “somewhat closely” groups down by Party affiliation, but that without this detail, we’re left with the impression that “informed minds think we should not raise the debt limit.” Regardless of where you come down politically on the issue, the implication based on poll numbers is faulty.

Attention to Debt Ceiling Debate Doesnt Affect Policy Views.

This 16-percentage-point margin against raising the debt limit among the most attentive Americans is similar to the 20-point margin among those following the matter somewhat closely, 48% vs. 28%. Those not following the issue closely are also more likely to want their member of Congress to vote against raising the debt limit than for it; however, the majority, 59%, have no opinion.

Rochester’s Civilian Review Board: Like a Tootsie Roll of Bias?

Rachel Barnhart ( @rachbarnhart ) turns in this article, looking into the Civilian Review Board and its operation. As she notes, the recent arrests of Emily Good and Willie Lightfoot have prompted calls for more scrutiny about the means by which allegations of RPD officer misconduct are investigated. The article does a great job outlining the process (PDF).

The thing that jumped out at me initially is this: the RPD’s Professional Standards office decides when a case goes to the CRB, the RPD officers also train the members of that board, and then the Chief of Police makes the final decision as to the fate of the case. So basically, the beginning, middle and end of the process is either directly result of, or else biased by, RPD involvement. Its like the RPD is a wrapper around the entire process.

Late update: important to note that *all* cases of reported police violence go to the CRB.

And while a closer look at the actual report doesn’t really suggest a lot of bias, it is not without a few clues to systemic problems. In fact, the report actually lists out (page 4) the current outstanding reports, with the verdicts of the PSS and CRB. These are the items left over from last year, still awaiting the Chief of Police’s final word. With thirty outstanding reports from last year, when there were only 32 cases reported in that year, its hard not to agree with the complaint that the process must be very lengthy. On page 2 of the report, the process by which cases are decided seems to indicate a potential endless loop of cases sent back and forth between the Chief and CRB.

Moreover, while some contend that the PSS is generally harder on cops than the CRB, the snapshot of outstanding reports does not bespeak that. There are two cases where the PSS found the claim to be “Unfounded,” but the CRB disagreed. In one case, an alleged act of police violence was found exonerated by the PSS but sustained by the CRB.

Ultimately, though, the real trouble is that these cases are examined by a small group of people entirely outside the public eye. Worse, the process seems to happen outside even the claimant’s ability to observe the process. Nobody gets to see inside the Tootsie Roll wrapper.

As the Emily Good story progressed, more than one person has commented that the appropriate way to deal with an act of police misconduct is to do as they ask, then report the incident later. But if filing a report means filling out a form and shoving it into a black hole for maybe a year before you get any verdict at all, what reason is there to trust that process? Nowhere in the report does the CRB acknowledge any particular requirement to inform the claimant of the status – nor really, even to ask them any questions – until after the process is finished. That doesn’t really sound like justice, even if it is ultimately fair. The fairness of the investigation, or lack thereof, isn’t something that the report can really provide any insight to.

Calls for a wholly new process of handling police misconduct seem to be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, though I’m prepared to admit that I’m wrong. In the meanwhile, the minimum we should be allowed to ask is for regular updates and some sort of public database – even if it is anonymized – of reported incidents.