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.