Thursday, October 23, 2008 | Contact: Colleen O’Boyle (703) 683-5004
MRC Study: ABC, CBS and NBC Spend Most Time Condemning McCain's Ads,
Little Scrutiny of Obama
As Campaign Cops, Media Tilt Against GOP
Obama was so pleased with the findings of a
CBS News/New York Times poll that he gave it a plug at the
October 15 presidential debate: "Two-thirds of the American people
think that Senator McCain is running a negative campaign, versus
one-third of mine."That's what the poll showed, but do people
believe this because McCain's ads really are more negative, or
because the media have spent more time complaining about them? MRC
intern Lyndsi Thomas went over all 213 broadcast morning and evening
news stories that discussed the candidates' ads from the end of the
primaries (June 4) through October 21. The results show the networks
aired nearly three times as many stories criticizing McCain's ads
(84) as hitting Obama's (32). TV reporters challenged both their
accuracy and tone:
■ Accuracy: The networks
challenged McCain's ads as false or distorted three times more
often than they disputed Obama's commercials. A total of 18
stories suggested inaccuracies with one or more campaign
commercials, with reporters challenging a total of 18 McCain ads
as false, compared to just six Obama ads.
CBS aired five of the six
segments suggesting Obama's ads were misleading voters, almost
always pairing a complaint about Obama with a gripe about
McCain's ads. NBC aired one story doubting an Obama ad, while
ABC had zero (although the network ran "fact checks"
scrutinizing claims made by both candidates in speeches and
McCain's ads drew far more ire
from network reporters. In September, NBC ran a total of four
stories — two on Today and two on Nightly News — condemning as
false McCain's ad saying that Sarah Palin "stopped the bridge to
nowhere." ABC's Good Morning America complained when a McCain ad
labeled disgraced ex-Fannie Mae CEO Franklin Raines "an advisor"
to Obama, citing Raines and Obama's claim that they were not
close. And the CBS Evening News challenged as not factual
McCain's ad saying Obama pushed "legislation to teach
comprehensive sex education to kindergartners."
For his part, Obama was
criticized by CBS for falsely claiming that McCain wanted to
slash "Social Security by half," but neither ABC nor NBC were
stirred to reject that claim. Back in June, CBS was also the
only network to debunk an Obama bio spot touting laws he'd
helped pass: "Obama had a small hand in both measures...and
didn't even vote on one he cited." But
a campaign watchdog, has questioned the truthfulness of 16
separate Obama ads since June — meaning that the networks have
skipped more Obama falsehoods than they've exposed.
■ Tone: Apart from complaints
about the accuracy of campaign ads, network reporters often
disdained the negative tone of ads. Again, McCain was on the
receiving end of nearly three times as many stories scolding his
supposed negativity (66) as Obama (26). But according to the
Wisconsin Advertising Project's review of ads
4 to October 4, and taking into account ads that include both
positive and negative messages, "the tone of the McCain and
Obama campaigns has been absolutely identical."
CBS aired six times more stories complaining about the tone of
McCain's ads (19 stories, compared to three about Obama's), while
ABC and NBC both spent about twice as much time scolding McCain.
Network journalists described McCain's ads as "ridiculous," "nasty,"
and "infamous," and had McCain described as "attacking," "blasting"
and "belittling" his opponent. Three stories suggested McCain's ad
equating Obama's celebrity status with that of Britney Spears and
Paris Hilton might be racist.
Network reporters may pose as the impartial referees of presidential
campaigns, but the one-sidedness of their approach reveals their
true bias. — Rich Noyes
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