The Business of Politics: Drudge, FoxNews and the MSM

There are numerous studies out indicating severe media bias in favor of Barack Obama this election cycle. That story has been overplayed at this point, and I really won’t weight in. Some people argue that fairness in the media requires equal positive and negative coverage. Some people argue that it’s natural and acceptable for media to bias towards a winner. Others argue that the media was simply reflecting reality – there were more positive stories to report out of Obama’s campaign (e.g. Warren Buffett / Colin Powell endorsements) and more negative stories to report out of the McCain campaign (e.g. in-fighting, the Couric interview, etc.)

While extreme media bias may be the big story that everyone is talking about, I want to discuss another sort of bias: the tendency for media to skew the truth in exchange for ratings (and thus higher advertising revenue).

It is the media’s interest to create drama by portraying this as a very close election. It’s just good business. It is in the media’s interest to create multiple narratives for how this election could be quite different than the polls are suggesting (i.e. because of the Bradley effect or voter fraud etc.).

In fact, it is in the media’s interest to completely undermine the legitimacy of polling data; by undermining the scientific nature of polling models, the mainstream media can point to the outlier polls that suggest a very close race. This serves to keep the drama at a fever pitch and the ratings high.

You won’t see Matt Drudge or Fox News Channel reporting about this kind of media bias, precisely because they are equally culpable as others in the MSM. But let’s look at one of the unintended consequences of this media bias in favor of ratings: the tendency to overplay close polls and delegitimize polls that portray this election as a done deal.

Think about it: the biggest single worry of the Obama campaign has been organizer let-down and voters who get lazy and complacent with such massive leads in the polling data. The Drudge Report, who is influential in driving the news cycle, skews heavily in favor of outlier polls that suggest a down-to-the-wire race. Fox News picks up on this and starts shouting it from the rooftops. It’s totally understandable. It keeps people excited and engaged…

… and it gets people to the polls. McCain and Obama supporters. Republicans and Democrats. And this is a strategic advantage for Obama and the Democrats. There are more Democrats than Republicans. It is in the Republican’s interest to see a lower turnout, because in a lower turnout, die-hard voters tend to lean Republican. But the perception of a close race just may be the thing that gives the Democrats the edge in this election. And for that, we can only blame Drudge and Fox News … because a scientific analysis of the polls suggests an Obama blowout.

  • Ryan Smith

    Obama may indeed blow out McCain tomorrow. I also agree that Obama appears to be in the lead. However, your argument, based on the “scientific analysis of polls” is flawed.

    Any rational pollster will tell you that polls are a guess at best. You are taking a small sampling of the population, asking them questions you hope they will answer truthfully (and, that they indeed will vote), then expanding that sample size to be an estimate of what the population as a whole will do.

    Obviously, McCain supporters will be in favor of polling data that shows the race tight and Obama fans will choose to believe the polls indicating a blow out.

    As long as the poll is conducted in a standardized manner, based on generally accepted statistical methods, it is difficult if not impossible to say “this one is correct and that is one is fallacy.” The proof is in the pudding and only the actually count of votes matter.

    As Obama reiterated in one of the debates, there are lies, damn lies and statistics. You’re argument is based on the “soundness” of the stats.

  • Joe

    I hear you. The analysis is sound … but here is the harm. What if the neocons steal another election through illegal voter suppression tactics and out-in-out computer voting fraud? By hyping illegitimate polls and making it appear the election is much closer than it really is, there is less shock, surprise, and suspicion in the electorate. Two US elections have been stolen consecutively. The democrats nor the people can roll over on the floor if it happens a 3rd time. And these bogus polls could be ammunition in an after-the-election battle.

  • Gary

    >>”However, your argument, based on the “scientific analysis of polls” is flawed.”

    I disagree. Polling is not simply guessing – it’s a scientific analysis of how pollsters predict people are going to vote. It’s an educated prediction. The site this post linked to also factors in all of the polls and analyzes why polls differ (who took a larger sample size of younger people / who took a smaller than average sample size of republicans / blah blah blah etc…) – The media wants to give the impression that it’s close because it’s a more compelling story.

    Great article btw.

  • ryan

    ‘they don’t realize it’

    2 words. moron/bullshit

  • Yeah, MSM is funny because they are out of touch and could be using social networks (digg, reddit, etc) for half of their content. Its funny how analysts, celebrities, and failed people rule the media with their opinions. Cant we just get the “news” anymore. Its like journalism has been dead for the past 10 years. I have a write up about this on my site.
    LiP – Who are these talking heads on 24 hour news shows?

    Hope it’ll all be ok though, once all these media conglomerates with agendas are forced to break up and there is more competition for “news” should force out some quality content.

  • “Tuscaloosa Plumbers for Jesus” McCain Robo Calls…

  • dietbrisk

    You talk about Matt Drudge as if he were in bed with Fox News and wanted Obama to lose.

  • yomamma

    HAHAHA. Good point, diebrisk. That is EXACTLY what Drudge wants. They’re trying to skew the news to favor the Republicans. That’s why I view Drudge as an amusement website, like the Enquirer, rather than a legit news provider.

  • jen

    hey Penn. dont be like FL and mess this up for us, vote

  • I’m not sure if Fox News and Drudge report are helping Obama. At least not in this sense. How many Obama supporters actually listen to Fox News and Drudge, and believe what they say? But the effect the media has is clear. Their influence seems to predict poll numbers. Check out