On the November 17 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, host Bill O'Reilly referenced a 2008 report by the Media Research Center's Culture & Media Institute, which claims that out of 69 stories on network news about Sarah Palin in the two-week period examined, 37 were negative, 30 were neutral and only two were positive. O'Reilly further complained, citing the report: "Twenty-one of the stories portrayed Sarah Palin as unintelligent and unqualified. Eight stories used clips from Saturday Night Live to ridicule her." O'Reilly added: "Is that kind of presentation an accident? No."
But the report O'Reilly cited was more a function of the MRC's shilling for Palin than any serious media research. The tone of the report is more about complaining that anything negative was reported about Palin at all, what was reported didn't reflect the McCain campaign's talking points, and (channeling Stephen Colbert) facts and reality have a well-known liberal bias.
The report's scope was carefully limited to only the broadcast news networks -- no Fox News -- and only to coverage in "the two weeks beginning September 29 and ending October 12," thus avoiding having to discuss the period immediately following Palin's nomination and Republican National Convention speech, when news coverage of her was largely -- and perhaps disproportionately -- positive.
The report conflated negative coverage with bias, scoring stories by "negative," "positive" and "neutral," then deciding that the network that ran the most "negative" stories versus "neutral" or "positive" ones was the "most biased." Despite suggesting that the "negative" stories were not factual or fair, no evidence is offered to support it. The report's basic premise is that all news about Palin must be balanced or positive, whether or not the facts call for it.
The report complained: "Most observers agree that Palin did not perform well in the [Katie] Couric interview, but the network coverage dwelled on the worst moments, making Palin look as unprepared and inexperienced as possible." After noting the focus on Palin's refusal to give a straight answer to Couric's question about what magazines and newspapers she read, the report further stated:
The network coverage of this exchange left the impression that Palin was unable to identify any news sources because she isn't interested in current events -- an implausible supposition to make about an accomplished politician.
The networks would have provided a more accurate portrayal of Palin had they highlighted the Alaska governor's thoughtful responses to other questions from Couric.
The report doesn't mention the fact that Palin could have avoided that kind of focus by simply giving a straight answer to the question.
The report then baselessly asserted that "Palin's strong performance during the October 2 vice-presidential debate sucked the oxygen out of the attacks on her qualifications and intellect," failing to note that polls taken immediately after the debate found that a majority of viewers thought that Joe Biden won. The report also complained that Tina Fey's dead-on Saturday Night Live impression of Palin got media attention, calling the impression "demeaning" and adding: "Funny stuff, but is it news?"
After lamenting that the networks reported "criticism of Palin from a handful of conservative writers," the report added, "The networks failed to mention that Palin enjoyed the enthusiastic support of far more influential conservative pundits, including premier talk show hosts Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Laura Ingraham and Mark Levin." So a guy who said, as Levin did, "It's not the National Organization of Liberal Women. It's the National Organization of Ugly Women," is a "premier" conservative radio host in the eyes of the MRC?
The report went on to express annoyance that the networks were "depicting Palin as nothing more than GOP presidential nominee John McCain's attack dog. ... Rather than investigate the substance of Palin's accusations against Obama, the media suggested the criticism was somehow improper." In fact, Palin was the McCain campaign's attack dog, substantive allegations or no.
Finally, the report arrived at its key bit of annoyance: "The networks failed to acknowledge adequately that Palin was doing more during her speeches than attacking Obama. She was also talking about issues, McCain's plans for the nation, and her own qualifications." In other words, the networks weren't mindlessly repeating McCain campaign talking points to the MRC's satisfaction.
This is a study that simply can't be taken seriously and must be seen through the MRC's pro-Palin, anti-media agenda.