On Fox News Watch, Jim Pinkerton claimed that Nancy Pelosi "is being presented to the American people as this moderate grandmother ... from Baltimore" rather than someone "from San Francisco [who] represents the left wing." In fact, a Media Matters survey showed that Pelosi has been portrayed in the media as a San Francisco liberal much more often than as a grandmother from Baltimore.
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During the November 11 edition of Fox News Watch, political analyst and Newsday columnist James P. Pinkerton claimed that "the best example of spin" in the media coverage of the 2006 midterm elections was House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, "who is being presented to the American people as this moderate grandmother, you know, and so on, from Baltimore. I mean, you could just as easily say she is from San Francisco and represents the left wing." Pinkerton added: "They made a choice. They chose to present her as somebody who had -- went to a dinner party with [former President] John F. Kennedy 50 years ago." In fact, prior to the election, the instances in which Pelosi was "presented" by the media as a grandmother from Baltimore were far outnumbered by those in which the media portrayed Pelosi as a San Francisco liberal, as a Media Matters for America survey demonstrates.
Media critic Neal Gabler responded to Pinkerton's claim by noting an October 30 article in The New York Times, in which reporter Jennifer Steinhauer wrote that Pelosi "has emerged as a searing symbol of the country's deep partisan divide," that "even in casual conversation" Pelosi "seemed to be reading from a script," and that "For Republican strategists laboring to maintain control of Congress, she [Pelosi] is the personification of liberal lunacy." Gabler also noted, as Media Matters documented, that Steinhauer echoed Republican false talking points by describing Pelosi as favoring "schools without prayer and death with taxes." The online version of the article was subsequently edited on October 30 to read: "She favors alternative sentencing over prison construction and opposes prayer in the schools." Pinkerton responded: "Well, sounds like a great -- sounds like a great story."
Indeed, Media Matters conducted a survey* of media coverage of Pelosi for 90 days prior to the 2006 midterm elections and found that, contrary to Pinkerton's claim about the media's election coverage "spin," newspapers, broadcast networks, and cable news networks repeatedly characterized Pelosi as a "San Francisco liberal" or a purveyor or symbol of "San Francisco values" while rarely mentioning the fact that Pelosi was a grandmother or that she was raised in Baltimore. Fox News showed the greatest disparity, with 19 characterizations of Pelosi as a "San Francisco liberal" and only one mention that Pelosi was a grandmother. The Fox News program Hannity & Colmes accounted for 11 of the 19 Fox News characterizations.
Pre-election media coverage for the period August 7 through November 7:
From the November 11 edition of Fox News Watch with host Eric Burns, American University professor Jane Hall, and Gabler:
BURNS: Jim, when I really thought there was too much information was -- I watched a lot of coverage at 3, 4, 5, 6 [p.m.] -- when they were analyzing exit polls, and that was really enormously overdone and not very helpful.
PINKERTON: I denounce these exit polls. I denounced them the last couple of elections. I think they're always wrong. This election, once again they were wrong. But look in terms of -- in terms of spin on this, I mean, the best example of spin is Nancy Pelosi, who's being presented to the American people as this moderate grandmother, you know, and so on, from Baltimore. I mean, you could just as easily say she is from San Francisco --
PINKERTON: -- and represents the left wing.
HALL: You could just as easily say -- wait a minute --
PINKERTON: They made a choice. They chose to present her as somebody who had -- went to a dinner party with John F. Kennedy 50 years ago.
GABLER: Yeah. Let me address that point. Jennifer Steinhauer, New York Times, on October 30th: "Even in casual conversation she seemed to be reading from a script. She is a symbol of the country's deep political divide. She is the personification of liberal lunacy." New York Times, by the way. "She favors alternative sentencing over prison construction, schools without prayer, and death with taxes."
PINKERTON: Well, sounds like a great -- sounds like a great story.
[crosstalk and laughter]
HALL: Can I get in here?
HALL: While Jim is calculating all this stuff, how about -- I mean, Fox News has endlessly characterized "San Francisco values." They don't say she is the daughter of a politician from Baltimore because "San Francisco values" works better. Sean Hannity, John Gibson, people were asking whether the terrorists were exalting in caves over the Democrats' win. If that isn't bias in the other direction I don't know what is.
PINKERTON: The Washington Post says she wears conservative suits.
* Lexis/Nexis database searches: "Pelosi w/20 San Francisco," "Pelosi w/20 Baltimore or grandmother" in Major Newspapers, ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, Fox News, and MSNBC. Editorials and foreign sources were omitted from the newspaper search. Items which used "San Francisco" only as an identifier of Pelosi's congressional district were omitted.
** includes two McClatchy syndicated articles that were counted only once each. One of those articles appeared in four separate papers and one appeared in three separate papers.