How are local media covering Obama vs. Romney?Written by Michael Miller | Editor in Chief Emeritus | email@example.com
I was raised to believe that anyone could be president of the United States. Certainly in my lifetime, the ascendencies of Bill Clinton and George W. Bush seemed to bolster that theory.
But with the news that President Barack Obama is nearing $1 billion in campaign funds, with challenger Mitt Romney not far behind, I wonder how true that once-bedrock American belief is. Would either of my two sons ever be in a position to access $1 billion? By the time they will be old enough to run, 30 years from now, $1 billion will seem like a quaint little figure.
Would I ever want either of my sons to be president? To experience the rancor, the lies and the open hatred many of our politicians endure?
Would I want to open a newspaper every day and see attacks, lies and attempts to destroy their characters and neutralize any chance they had at effectiveness?
As the election nears, media bias is an ongoing and legitimate concern. As a working journalist, I pay close attention to how local media cover politics. The inexorable acrimony that divides so many Americans has become an accepted element of the discussion; that is clearly seen in the rise of such media outlets as FOX News and MSNBC. More people seem to gravitate to news sources that present the side they believe in, thus depriving themselves of opposing viewpoints and messages.
How does this division and side-taking translate to local media? To investigate, Toledo Free Press commissioned researcher Mary McCartney to study the LexisNexis database and local media websites (The Blade, Toledo Free Press, 13abc, WTOL/FOX and WNWO NBC) to determine whether our hometown media have taken sides in Obama vs. Romney.
Our research studied the period from June 1, 2012 — the week Romney sewed up the GOP nomination with a Texas primary win — through Oct. 3, 2012, just after the first presidential debate. The focus was on which candidate dominated the reporting of each published or broadcast story — which candidate was discussed in more depth, with more words — than his opponent. Each story was determined to fall into one of three categories: Balanced, Obama or Romney. We focused on campaign-specific stories, discounting news coverage of Obama’s presidency if the story did not invoke the campaign. We included opinion columns and analysis pieces alongside news stories, under the belief that total presentation of each candidate was important.
We did not attempt to characterize the tenor of the coverage; judging slant, positive or negative, takes the conversation down a subjective road, far from any empirical analysis. Our study guides you through each media outlet’s volume of coverage. It is up to you to determine if that coverage is fair to your chosen candidate.
The broadcast media were firmly entrenched in balanced reporting. All three stations relied on Associated Press reports for website pieces of any depth (as defined by word count); local reporting was limited to local candidate visits.
- WNWO NBC presented 34 Balanced stories, 34 Obama stories and 34 Romney stories, a perfect balance for a total of 102 stories. A check of the Federal Elections Commission (FEC) database shows WNWO President/CEO Chris Topf has donated to the National Associaiton of Broadcasters Political Action Committee (PAC), but not to any specific candidate.
- WTOL/FOX Toledo included 11 Balanced stories, 17 Obama stories and 24 Romney stories, leaning GOP in its total of 52 stories. An FEC check shows WTOL General Manager Bob Chirdon has donated to the Liberty Corporation Federal PAC, but not to any specific candidate.
- WTVG 13abc offered 8 Balanced stories, 11 Obama stories and 8 Romney stories, leaning slightly Democratic in its total of 27 stories. FEC records do not show that WTVG General Manager John Christianson has donated to any specific candidate.
Adding it all up, Toledo’s TV stations offered 53 balanced stories, 62 Obama stories and 66 Romney stories for a relatively fair total of 181 stories.
Toledo Free Press
Although Toledo Free Press is certainly more conservative-leaning than The Blade, I was surprised to see the results of our study. Toledo Free Press presented 4 Balanced stories, 5 Obama stories and 12 Romney stories for a total of 21 articles. I was surprised because, working with Toledo Free Press Managing Editor Sarah Ottney and News Editor Brigitta Burks, we have striven to cover Obama and Romney appearances equally. Looking at the details, the source of the disparity is clear. Opinion pieces by conservative writers Tim Higgins, Thomas Berry, Gary Rathbun and Dock David Treece tip our content way in Romney’s favor. I do not apologize for any of our writers’ opinions, but it does help to be aware of the specifics in the gap in our opinion content.
The FEC database shows no donations from Toledo Free Press Publisher Tom Pounds or Toledo Free Press Editor in Chief Michael S. Miller.
Given Blade Publisher and Editor-in-Chief John Block’s open endorsement of Obama (remember the 2008 Page One Blade photo of Block giddily reaching to embrace then-candidate Obama?), his 2008 donation to Obama for America and his attendance as one of very few guest list media people at the March 14, 2012 State Dinner for U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, combined with his newspaper’s stalwart liberal philosophy, it would not be surprising to see Obama dominate The Blade’s campaign coverage. And the numbers do show a disparity.
During our study, The Blade reported 56 Balanced stories, 86 Obama stories and 62 Romney stories for a total of 204 articles. The total contains some interesting trends by reporters, presumably covering specific beats. Blade reporter Jim Provance has been credited for 8 Balanced stories, 28 Obama stories and 9 Romney stories; reporter Tom Troy has a byline count of 22 Balanced stories, 25 Obama stories and 36 Romney stories. All other Blade writers had numbers relatively evenly divided between the two candidates.
FEC records do not show any candidate donations by John Block during this election cycle. Block Communications Chairman Allan Block has donated to Romney for President Inc. and the National Republican Congressional Committee. He is also a contributor to Republicans Sen. Rob Portman, Rep. Bob Latta and U.S. Senate candidate Josh Mandel, and Democrat Rep. Marcy Kaptur.
WSPD 1370 AM
In tracking WSPD (disclosure: I host a pop culture radio show for WSPD, for no compensation), which features a conservative lineup led by Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity and local hosts Brian Wilson and Fred LeFebvre, an interesting trend emerges. Obviously, the station mentions Obama and Romney with a frequency too great to count during the course of four months. FEC records do not list any donations from General Manager Andy Stuart. But WSPD is the only local news source that consistently covers Libertarian Party candidate Gary Johnson. Johnson has been a guest on the station’s local shows and his platform has been regularly discussed in-depth on its airwaves.
To contrast, Toledo Free Press has mentioned Johnson once during the study period. Another review of The Blade for the four-plus months examined showed only three mentions of the Libertarian candidate. Two of those mentions were in passing; one article reported on the visit to Toledo by his vice presidential candidate, Jim Gray, and the main theme of the story was the candidate’s position on same-sex marriage. A study of local television websites shows a number of Associated Press articles.
Across all media reporting in Toledo, it appears the press tends to slightly lean in favor of the president, with an attempt at balanced reporting across all the organizations. There were 406 stories total: 113 Balanced, 153 Obama and 140 Romney. So while national media may clearly be divided by bias, at least locally, in this study, we can be pleased to have a relatively balanced media.
Unless you’re a Gary Johnson fan.
Michael S. Miller is editor in chief of Toledo Free Press and Toledo Free Press Star. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: 13abc, Allan Block, Barack Obama, Bill Clinton, Bob Latta, Brian Wilson, Dock David Treece, Fred LeFebvre, Gary Johnson, Gary Rathbun, George W. Bush, Glenn Beck, Jim Provance, John Block, Josh Mandel, Lighting The Fuse, Marcy Kaptur, Michael S. Miller, Mitt Romney, Rob Portman, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, The Blade, Thomas Berry, Tim Higgins, Toledo Free Press, Tom Pounds, Tom Troy, WNWO NBC, WTOL