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Previous Labeling Studies
and Recent Examples

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     On June 25, 2002 the MRC released a new labeling study, "Network Reporters Bury the Liberal Label," which documented how on broadcast network evening newscasts from 1997 through 2001 four of five ideological tags were placed on conservatives. To review the methodology, see "How MRC Conducted Its Labeling Study".

     Below are earlier ideological labeling studies published in the MRC's MediaWatch newsletter followed by some newer anecdotal examples culled from the MRC's archives.

MediaWatch Studies

Concerned Women for America Labeled Much More Often Than NOW
A 1989 MRC study of the Washington Post, New York Times, Newsweek, Time and U.S. News found that during 1987-88 Concerned Women for America was tagged conservative 41 percent of the time, but the National Organization for Women was called liberal just 2 percent of the time. Details:

Conservatives Labeled More Than Liberals by a 14-1 Rate
For a 1991 study, MediaWatch selected a broad sample of smaller groups in specific issue areas, surveying every news story on 14 liberal groups and seven conservative ones from 1988, 1989, and 1990 in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, and Washington Post. Analysts found 29 labels in 1,182 stories on liberal groups (2.5 percent), and 65 labels in 179 stories on conservative groups (36.3 percent), a ratio of 14 to one. Details:

Study of Primary Coverage Found 45 "Extremist" Labels for Republicans
A 1996 MRC study published in MediaWatch found that in 1992 Democratic candidates or their supporters were labeled "liberal" only four times, none suggesting extremism. In 1996, GOP candidates or their supporters were labeled 73 times, 45 of the labels suggesting extremism.

To complete the study, MediaWatch analysts compared media coverage of the primaries in 1992 with those in 1996. Analysts reviewed evening news coverage of the four networks (ABC's World News Tonight, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, and CNN's The World Today and in 1992 World News or Prime News) for 19 days, starting with the Tuesday before the New Hampshire primary. Details:

Extreme" Tag Applied to Republicans Far More Than Democrats
In 1996 MediaWatch analysts used the Nexis news data retrieval system to search for the word "extreme" within 25 words of "Republican" or "Democrat" in the three news magazines (Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News & World Report) and USA Today from January 1, 1993 to May 31, 1996. Analysts discovered reporters did not use many extremist labels in 1993 and 1994 -- 41 -- but 26 of those were applied to Republicans, compared to ten mentions of dual extremes and only five for the Democrats who ruled both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue. But in the first 17 months of GOP control of the House, Republicans were described as "extreme" in 123 stories, while only 15 found "extremes" on both sides. Just two mentioned "extreme" Democrats. Details:

Liberal Environmental Groups Virtually Unlabeled
For a 1997 analysis, MediaWatch analysts used the Nexis news data retrieval system to locate every news story in 1995 and 1996 on ten liberal environmental groups, and compared that to conservative groups in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post. In 1,089 news stories, liberal environmental groups were described as liberal in only five stories (or 0.5 percent). By contrast, the largest "free-market environmentalist" think tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute drew eight "conservative" labels in 29 stories (28 percent). Details:

Pro-life Groups Are Conservatives; Abortion Advocates Rarely Labeled
As abortion advocates celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision
legalizing abortion, MediaWatch analysts explored the labeling of groups active in the abortion debate. Using the Nexis news data retrieval system, analysts located every news story in 1995 and 1996 on four pro-life groups, and compared them to stories on four abortion advocacy groups in The New York Times, USA Today, and The Washington Post. In 1,050 news stories, the pro-life groups were described as "conservative" or some variant in 178 out of 378 news stories (47 percent), while abortion advocates were labeled "liberal" or a similar term in only 19 of 682 stories (2.8 percent). Details:


Recent Examples of Labeling on Network News

  • ABC's Carole Simpson told viewers of the February 24, 2002 World News Tonight that judicial nominee Charles Pickering was conservative. A coalition of 50 "women's, human rights and civil rights" organizations who were opposed to the Pickering nomination went unlabeled.

  • CNN's Aaron Brown called author Shelby Steele a conservative at the outset of an interview but did not label liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen. In an unusual turn of events on the December 18, 2001 NewsNight, Steele pointed Brown's oversight out to him and insisted that he tell the audience Cohen was a liberal.

  • The incident Bernard Goldberg cited in his book, Bias: A CBS Insider Exposes How the Media Distort the News, about how in January of 1999 ABC's Peter Jennings avoided labeling liberal Senators but tagged conservative ones during the opening of the Senate's impeachment trial. Details:

  • Contrast between how ABC, CBS and NBC labeled Dick Cheney in 2000 versus Al Gore in 1992. As recounted in a July 2000 Media Reality Check:
"Cheney earned a lifetime 91 percent from the American Conservative Union while Gore was at the opposite end of the spectrum at 15 percent."

Still, the night Gore was announced in 1992, CBS reporter Richard Threlkeld claimed: 'Both Gore and Clinton are centrist, some would say conservative Democrats, and white and male.' Tom Brokaw announced on NBC: "Today, Bill Clinton broke the rules. He chose someone from the same gene pool: a fellow moderate Southerner of the same generation, Senator Al Gore of Tennessee." During the convention, CBS's Susan Spencer found delegates willing to accept "such a conservative pair in hopes of winning."

Compare that to how Cheney was described the day Bush made his selection official, July 25:

-- ABC: Linda Douglass referred to him as one of the "most conservative members" of Congress who had "a very conservative voting record." George Stephanopoulos dubbed him a "very hardline conservative."

-- CBS: Bill Whitaker managed three different adjectives, tagging Cheney "a bedrock conservative" and "a rock solid conservative" with a "a solidly conservative voting record." Bryant Gumbel put Cheney outside the mainstream: "Cheney's politics are of the hard right variety."

-- NBC: Anne Thompson noted his "very conservative record." Lisa Myers recalled his days in Congress: "His voting record? Very conservative."

For similar examples involving Cheney, click on the following links.



Read the Media Reality Check

Also, read the methodology of the study


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