Sunday, August 03, 2008

Washington Post looks at it campaign coverage

Doing the looking is WaPo’s Ombudsman Deborah Howell and some WaPo staffers she references in her Aug. 3 column which begins:

Barack Obama [is] creaming [John] McCain in the number of pictures and stories published in The Post in the past two months.

First, photos.

Richard Benedetto, a retired USA Today White House reporter who teaches journalism and political science at American University, studied photos in the A section from June 4, the day after Obama clinched the nomination, to July 14.

He shared his research with me, and I expanded it to the whole paper and continued it through Friday with the aid of my assistant, Jean Hwang, photo desk assistant David Snyder and The Post's Merlin photo database.

What we found: 122 photos of Obama have been published in the paper during that time to 78 for McCain, counting tiny to big. Most of those photos ran inside the paper; most on the politics page.

The Page 1 photos are closer: Obama had nine to McCain's seven. Five of Obama's were above the fold; McCain had four. Obama also got more color photos, 72 to 49, and more large photos -- mostly those that spanned three or more columns, 30 to 10.

Folks, let’s stop here for a moment.

I bet all of you who are intelligent, fair-minded and familiar with how most MSM ombudsmen and public editors function, including the Raleigh N&O’s Ted Vaden, are saying to yourselves something like: “So far Howell and the people she’s using aren't anything like the usual spin and shuffle MSM budsmen and pub edits.”

Continuing with Howell:

McCain was behind before Obama went to the Middle East and Europe. But during his trip, Obama shellacked McCain on photos.

July 25 was the topper -- five photos from Obama's Berlin visit. To begin with, a photo of Obama before a humongous crowd dominated Page 1 -- a stunning photo worth the size. Next, on Page A6, another big Obama picture. Next, a large picture of him at the Victory Column on the op-ed page with a Eugene Robinson column.

But wait, there was yet another picture of him by the Victory Column on the Style section front and another picture inside Style of Obama talking to reporters. It was a bit much.

What we're reading is not at all like a Ted Vaden apologia pro N&O column. What about the columns your budsman or pub edit “readers advocate” writes?

Continuing with Howell:

The pictures of Obama -- in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in Israel, in Berlin and in Paris -- did just what the campaign wanted: They portrayed Obama as a world leader.

The Post also covered McCain's trip to Latin America in early July, but McCain didn't draw the crowds Obama did, and the Middle East is much more of a newsworthy hot spot than Latin America. …

The rest of Howell’s column is here.

She ends it with:

[Ed Thiede, assistant managing editor for the news desk, said that the numbers are "eye-opening. We should be more cognizant."

[But he added] the difference "reflects that Obama is new to the scene and has had more events that had more visual impact. Obama's campaign is better at putting him in situations that mean better photos," and too many of McCain's photos were static and at a podium.

Readers look at photos when they don't read stories. But Obama leads in stories since June 4, too -- 139 to 94. They were both featured in 23 stories. Again, part of this is due to Obama being the new kid and less well known.

But these kinds of discrepancies feed distrust on the part of readers, especially conservative ones, who already complain that The Post is all for Obama. Next week, I will examine the stories.

The kinds of discrepancies Howell and her team identified do “feed distrust” among conservatives as well as other fair-minded people who look to the news pages for news fair and balanced.

I’m looking forward to next week’s column.

I thank Howell and her “fact-finding team” for their work to date.

Now, Readers, it’s your turn.


Danvers said...

Any real analysis of the WaPo, using any rational parameters, would show a statistically significant difference between the number, type, placement and size of articles/pictures about/of Obama compared to McCain . What can this be other than systemic media bias?

If anyone can counter this statement, please do so.

Anonymous said...

There is the "corporate" media, like the Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, ABC, NBC, FOX - you know who they are. They are owned and controlled by five or six corporations and that is why they are also known as the "MSM" - they produce almost all of the media in our country - TV, movies, books, magazines, news papers, radio, they produce and spoon feed us the "news." I don't see anything wrong with analyzing the Washington Post, looking for bias, pointing it out, and so on. It is hopeless to expect any corporate media to report the unbiased facts.
Murdoch of Fox News Admits Manipulating the News for Agenda. Video.

Anonymous said...

John -

With some small exceptions, the rot in the MSM is systemic. The N&O complains about all the internet competition they're getting. Too bad. They failed to report the truth, as has most of the MSM. I would like to think that the MSM will go the way of the dodo bird.

Jack in Silver Spring

BillyB said...

dodo bird?

Is that an eupheism for Nifong?