Primaries: Has the media been biased?

How many times each news source mentioned each candidate each day, and other data. The full spreadsheet with all tallies is available here. (Photo Courtesy of William Sease)How many times each news source mentioned each candidate each day, and other data. The full spreadsheet with all tallies is available here. (Photo Courtesy of William Sease)

For a 10-day period, The Mycenaean analyzed the home page of 4 different major news source and WRAL, a local news source. During that time, we counted how many times those news sources mentioned specific candidate’s last names.

Across the four sources that presented themselves as “fair and balanced” (CNN, BBC, FOX News, and NC’s own WRAL), we found that Republicans earned 78% of all media coverage. Donald Trump took 56% of coverage across all candidates. Donald Trump also took 72% of all media coverage directed at Republicans–substantially more than he won in any of the primaries of March 15th.

Even more amazing is how Republican candidate Ted Cruz took a disproportionately large percentage of the vote while receiving about the same attention as Marco Rubio or John Kasich, or even less. Ted Cruz only received 7% of media attention among Republicans, less than Marco Rubio (who dropped out on the third day of our count) or John Kasich, who both received 10% of all media coverage. Despite this, Ted Cruz won nearly 36.8% of North Carolina’s primary, a performance that included winning Wake County. Despite Cruz effectively taking the city of Raleigh, WRAL mentioned his name 3 out of the 10 days of the survey, averaging .7 mentions per day.

Breitbart, a staunchly conservative news source, was left out of these results because it isn’t a fair and balanced news agency, nor do they claim to be. Indeed, Breitbart once had Trump listed on their home page 57 times, while mentioning Clinton twice. Yet Breitbart is just an exaggeration of trends the more mainstream media outlets are perpetuating themselves. In some ways, Breitbart seems more balanced. Adding in Breitbart’s data to the pool of sources does not shift the percentages (which treats all news sources equally) to any significant degree. Without Breitbart, Donald Trump collects 71% of all front page mentions. Including Breitbart, he gets 72%.

It’s true that Breitbart mentioned Donald Trump a whole lot, but it seemed to mention everybody in the race a lot. Likewise, other sources mentioned Trump’s name a few times, but often left other candidates completely in the cold. Breitbart should be commended for reporting on Ted Cruz in a way that even vaguely matches his popularity in the election. Every candidate faced a day of no news coverage but Trump. The closest Trump got was on WRAL, on March 19th and 20th, during which he appeared only one time.

The coverage of Democratic candidates has been equally disproportional. Hillary Clinton snagged 79% of Democratic media coverage but only 54% of North Carolina’s vote, leaving Bernie Sanders with 21% of the coverage and 40% of the vote. Even among the other states who voted on March 15, Sanders was underrepresented when compared to his actual primary performance (Ohio 42%, Missouri 49%, Florida 33%). The difference between this and the Trump phenomenon is that this can’t be chalked up to media sensationalism, as Clinton isn’t a bizarre choice for a candidate. The reason for the lapse in media coverage has no easy answer.

In short, the American news media seems to have behaved irresponsibly. Donald Trump’s unique platform and message have been propped up and carried by a group of news agencies desperate to keep people watching and reading. Donald Trump often brags about financing his own campaign, but that’s probably only possible because he’s also enjoyed more free media coverage in the last year than arguably anyone else. While other candidates rush to collect and spend absurd amounts of money to get their faces in front of the world, Trump settles for having his name on the front page of every paper, free of charge. In light of this, Trump’s electability seems half as important as his celebrity so long as the world of 24/7 news persists..

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