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  • Politico and the coming Election Day "meltdown"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The headline reads, "Experts warn of Nov. 4 voting meltdowns," and the article is about all the new voters being put on the rolls and whether states, especially Ohio and Florida will be able to handle the stress on Election Day.

    But it turns out the only ones warning about a "meltdown" are editors at Politico. Because none of the experts quoted in the story use that kind of doomsday language.

    Instead, most sound like Kimball Brace, from Election Data Services, which advises local government on election administration. Brace told Politico, "There's still reason to be concerned in terms of what's going to take place in November."

    That's a long way from "meltdown" talk. This seems to be a case of editors pushing a provocative theme that reporters haven't quite nailed down.

  • Fuzzy Math About Negative Ads

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Referring to an exchange between McCain and Obama about negative ads, Time's Karen Tumulty asks and answers: "Who's more negative? It's a draw."

    Tumulty based her conclusion not on a qualitative assessment of the candidates' ads, but on a statement from Professor Ken Goldstein of the University of Wisconsin Advertising Project, which counts ads and assesses them as "positive," "negative," or "contrast."

    The Project doesn't differentiate between true and false negative ads, or assess degrees of negativity -- "John Smith's tax plan is wrong for America" is treated the same as "Jane Smith is a terrorist." That's a fundamentally flawed approach to assessing which campaign is "more negative." And, given the nastiness of McCain's ads, not to mention their frequent inaccuracy, it's an approach that favors McCain.

    But, fine. We'll play along.

    Tumulty's conclusion is an awfully generous reading of Goldstein's statement, which noted that 47 percent of McCain's general election campaign ads have been negative, compared to 35 percent for Obama. (27 percent of McCain's ads and 25 percent of Obama's have been contrast ads.)

    Not only is Tumulty's conclusion generous to McCain, Goldstein seems to be as well.

    According to Goldstein, 39 percent of Obama ads have been positive, 35 percent negative, and 25 percent contrast.

    According to Goldstein, 26 percent of McCain ads have been positive, 47 percent negative, and 27 percent contrast.

    So, that's pretty clear: a significantly larger portion of McCain's ads have been negative. A significantly larger portion of Obama's ads have been positive.

    Yet Goldstein asserts:

    But, Obama has aired over 50,000 more ads than McCain. So, hasn't he simply aired more of everything - including negative ads - than McCain has this year, or than anyone in history, as McCain may have alleged?

    If one just looks at pure airings of negative ads, McCain has aired more than Obama. If one allocates contrast ads as half positive and half negative or considers contrast ads as negative - as the Advertising Project does - the tone of the McCain and Obama campaigns has been absolutely identical.

    It isn't entirely clear what Goldstein is trying to say, but it appears he's saying that the two campaigns have run the same number (not percentage) of negative ads (including contrast ads.)* And that because they've run the same number of negative ads, their "tone" has "been absolutely identical."

    That seems reasonable enough -- until you remember that the campaigns have run positive ads, too. And that Obama has run many more positive ads than McCain. If they've run the same number of negative ads, and Obama has run many more positive ads, obviously their tone has not been "absolutely identical." McCain's has been more negative.

    So it may be accurate to say they've run the same number of negative ads -- Goldstein's statement doesn't include the raw numbers necessary to make such a determination, but that's what he seems to assert. But it does not follow that their tone is identical; Goldstein's conclusion is simply illogical.

    * If this isn't what Goldstein's saying, his conclusion that the "tone of the McCain and Obama campaigns has been absolutely identical" is self-evidently false, as Goldstein's own numbers show that a significantly larger proportion of McCain's ads have been negative.

    UPDATE: In the comment thread attached to her post, Tumulty writes: "Ah, just saw the Media Matters piece on this ... I'll go with Wisconsin on this."

    Here's the thing: "Wisconsin's" conclusion is demonstrably false; fatally undermined by their own data. Choosing to "go with Wisconsin" on this means choosing to be wrong. The Wisconsin project's data indicates that a significantly higher proportion of Obama's ads have been positive, and Obama has run many more positive ads. Concluding from that that the "tone" of the two ad campaigns has been "identical" is simply wrong. This isn't a matter of interpretation. It's right there in the project's data. And in the definition of "identical."

    So the question now is: Why does Karen Tumulty prefer to stand with a false conclusion that makes John McCain look better?

  • The entertainer

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    Were pundits last night disappointed that the debate wasn't more fun; that the substance-driven forum wasn't more entertaining?

    That's the vibe Melissa McEwan picked up:

    Detecting that wee bit of disappointment at the increasingly likely prospect that they're going to have to cover "the boring guy" for at least the next four years sent a chill up my spine, but it also pissed me right off.

  • Question of the day

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    How many times in one day can The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder fit "Obama" and "socialist" into the same headline?

    Bonus question: When Ambinder mocks people for "mining the blood relations and voting history of Joe the Plumber," does he recognize that they're doing so because the media is pretending Joe the Plumber is the most important thing to talk about? And by "the media," I mean "people like Marc Ambinder," who mentioned "Joe The Plumber" 11 times on his blog before mocking others for looking into the guy's background. Two consecutive (and three total) Ambinder posts put "Joe The Plumber" in the headline. Seven minutes after the debate ended, Ambinder announced: "Tonight's winner: Joe the plumber."

    Last night, Ambinder was perfectly willing to write during the debate: "Obama does seem acknowledge that Joe The Plumber would see his taxes go up."

    Turns out that isn't really true. But now that people are pointing out that Wurzelbacher is a Republican who hates Social Security -- and who not only would not face a tax increase under Obama, he'd likely get a larger tax cut from Obama than he would from McCain -- well, suddenly, Marc Ambinder has heard enough about Joe The Plumber.

    Maybe it's distracting him from trying to come up with evidence to support his claims that the media is paying more attention to Christopher Buckley than to ACORN.

  • Andrea Mitchell's "catchphrase"

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell just announced that "Joe the Plumber" is the hot newcatch phrase sweeping the nation:

    "Move over Joe Sixpack. The nation has a new catchphrase today: Joe The Plumber has become the emblem of the working class voter, and the angry voter at that."

    This is nonsense. John McCain's friends in the media may be playing along with his efforts to convince people that Joe Wurzelbacher's opinions are the most important thing in this campaign, but that doesn't mean actual voters are falling for it. After all, John McCain's friends in the media thought he did very well in last night's debate -- but actual voters disagreed.

    While tripping all over themselves trying to help McCain turn "Joe The Plumber" into a "catchphrase" and an "emblem," reporters like Andrea Mitchell are overlooking some key facts. Like this one: Wurzelbacher would get a tax cut under Barack Obama's tax plan. (And probably a bigger tax cut under Obama's plan than under McCain's, given the distributions of the two plans.)

  • Missing the forest for the trees

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    The Punditocracy is nearly unanimous that John McCain's best line last night was when he announced that he is not George W. Bush.

    What they don't mention is that "I am not George Bush" is a defensive line. From the candidate who is losing. When you're losing, and your best line is a defense effort ... that is not good.

    Here's one of many examples: Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post:

    McCain did not score the knockout blow that many Republicans had hoped but he did land several solid body shots -- the best of which was his repudiation of Obama's contention that he represented four more years of President George W. Bush.

    That's landing a "solid body shot" -- defending yourself from comparisons to an historically unpopular president?

    Maybe it was a good line, maybe it wasn't -- that's for others to decide. But it certainly wasn't an assault that sent Obama reeling. It was McCain defending himself.

  • Spinning the SpinSpotter?

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    The New York Times has a news piece today on the SpinSpotter, a new software application that's supposed to help readers sniff out bias in news articles by, among other things, highlighting red flag words and phrases,

    SpinSpotter debuted in beta this summer and frankly, we're a bit skeptical about the enterprise just because we think misinformation is more often the product of bad or lazy or sloppy journalism, not bias.

    In fact, we couldn't help notice the (ironic) way the Times article concludes, quoting one of SpinSpotter's co-founders:

    "We've even talked to some news organizations that are interested in having a version of our service behind the wall," he said, "so they can prescreen their work."

    The irony is that's what you call spin. Because unless the founder can name which news orgs are considering installing SpinSpotter, or unless the Times can independently confirm that fact, the claim should not be reported in a news article. Because what entrepreneur, being interviewed by the Times, wouldn't love to claim that his new company was in talks with all kind of (unnamed) clients?

    So the article about SpinSpotter pretty much proved our point: We need a software application that cures weak journalism, not biases.

  • Headline writers' post-debate word of the day: "cool"

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    "Aggressive Underdog vs. Cool Counterpuncher" (Washington Post)

    "McCain Brings Heat, Obama Stays Mr. Cool" (Chicago Sun-Times)

    "Analysis: McCain Intense, Obama Maybe Too Cool" (Boston Globe)

    "Debate Sees An Aggressive McCain and a Cool Obama" (The Hill)

    "A fiesty McCain, a cool Obama, and appeals to 'Joes' everywhere" (Christian Science Monitor)

    "McCain seemed energized; Obama kept cool" (Denver Post)

  • Paging John Stossel

    Blog ››› ››› ERIC BOEHLERT

    On ABC's 20/20, in-house conservative Stossel recently poked fun at young voters, suggesting they didn't know enough to vote. To prove it, he conducted some man-on-the-street interviews and highlighted how many young voters couldn't identify Joe Biden or U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See his report here.

    In response, the Oregon Bus Project had some fun and did their own man-on-the street interviews with older voters to see how much they knew about Joe Biden and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. See that report here.

  • Mark Halperin, Wrong Again -- and John King tries to explain away his own employer's poll

    Blog ››› ››› JAMISON FOSER

    Time's Halperin says McCain won the debate handily, giving him an A- to Obama's B.

    Halperin on McCain: "During the first half of the debate, showed off the best of himself -- dedicated, sincere, patriotic, cheery, earnest, commanding--all without seeming old or anxious. Even scored some points in the 'change' category, against the candidate who has owned the theme. ... if a majority of persuadable voters watched the debate, they saw why McCain's advisers have faith in him and still believe he can win this race."

    Halperin on Obama: "During the first half of the debate, too often displayed his worst traits--petty, aloof, imperious--and behaved as if he had someplace better to be, although he became warmer and more engaged as the evening progressed. Did not seem to have an explicit strategy; instead, he answered the questions piecemeal as they came his way, without driving a message or even a theme. Retained his consistently unflappable air, and had a few fine moments. If he was sitting on his lead, it worked - but perhaps at the expense of relinquishing part of it."

    CNN's poll of debate viewers found that 58 percent thought Obama won; only 31 percent thought McCain won. 66 percent thought Obama expressed his views more clearly; only 25 percent thought McCain did. 56 percent said Obama seemed to be the stronger leader; only 39 percent said McCain. 70 percent said Obama was more likable; only 22 percent said McCain.

    CBS polled uncommitted viewers, and found that by a 53-22 margin, they thought Obama won.

    UPDATE: CNN's John King keeps trying to spin away CNN's poll, saying he's very skeptical because viewers skewed Democratic. But Campbell Brown has detailed the exact breakdown several times, with John King sitting right there. 40 percent of debate watchers were Democrats, 30 percent were Republicans, 30 percent were independents. If that skews in favor of the Democrats in comparison to the general electorate, it does so only slightly -- nowhere near enough to explain away, as King keeps trying to do, the huge margins by which debate viewers preferred Obama.

    UPDATE 2: Further undermining King's skepticism: CNN's poll found 57 percent of independents who watched the debate thought Obama won; only 31 percent thought McCain won.

    UPDATE 3: Nate Silver: King is "a little bit out of line in critiquing his own poll, which he's said is skewed toward Democrats (the sample was something like D40, R30). It's skewed toward Democrats because America is skewed toward Democrats! The party ID split in the country right now is very close to 40/30."