CNN's Cafferty and MSNBC's Scarborough Highlight MRC Campaign Bias Study

Thanks to a Wednesday night AP story by David Bauder (Breitbart, WashPost.com) CNN's Jack Cafferty and MSNBC's Joe Scarborough on Thursday highlighted the Media Research Center's new study, “Rise and Shine on Democrats: How the ABC, CBS and NBC Morning Shows Are Promoting Democrats on the Road to the White House” (Executive Summary). It found that, from January through July, the ABC, CBS and NBC morning shows devoted nearly twice the time to stories about, and interviews with, Democratic over Republican presidential candidates, avoided placing liberal labels on Democrats and also overwhelmingly posed questions which pressed candidates of both parties from the left.

NewsBusters and the MRC's CyberAlert regularly criticize Cafferty for his left-wing rants and attacks on conservatives, but we can't complain about his straight-forward summary Thursday night of the MRC's study: “The network morning news shows have given a lot more air time to the Democratic presidential candidates than to the Republican ones. That's according to a conservative media watchdog outfit called the Media Research Center.” Reading replies later in the hour, Cafferty included one which asserted “the media are overwhelmingly biased in favor of the Democrats. 90 percent of the media voted for Kerry.” But Cafferty couldn't resist ending with this one: “All are being fair except for the F-word network!”

Video clip of the August 30 “Cafferty File” segment in the 7pm EDT hour (1:10): Real (2 MB) or Windows Media (2.4 MB), plus MP3 audio (400 KB)

(NB's Thursday night posting of video of MRC President Brent Bozell discussing the study Thursday night on FNC's Hannity & Colmes.)

Full transcript of the August 30 “Cafferty File” segment in the third hour of CNN's The Situation Room:
JACK CAFFERTY: The network morning news shows have given a lot more air time to the Democratic presidential candidates than to the Republican ones. That's according to a conservative media watchdog outfit called the Media Research Center. They claim that through last month the ABC, CBS and NBC morning news programs devoted 284 segments to Democrats compared to just 152 for Republicans. The network news executives say there's no bias and that they've had a harder time getting the Republican White House hopefuls to appear on their programs. They say they strive to present [a] fair picture of the campaign, but that the news drives their decisions and that's why, for example, the Clinton/Obama campaign, which you'll recall began way back in January, that rivalry started heating up, that meant more coverage for the Democrats -- especially that month.

But morning news aside, it does point to a larger issue of whether or not the Republican and Democratic candidates for the White House are getting equal coverage and that's our question tonight. “Are the media being fair to both sides in the 2008 presidential race?” E-mail your thoughts to CaffertyFile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile -- Wolf.

WOLF BLITZER: We're asking all the candidates to come and appear here in The Situation Room. The Democratic candidates, the Republican candidates and a lot of the front-runners, they're simply declining, Jack, at this point.

CAFFERTY: Yes, there is a point to be made that it's hard to get some of these people. And with all you know appearances they have scheduled and stuff, but I don't know, we'll see what the viewers think.

BLITZER: Good idea -- Jack, thanks very much.
Near the end of the 7pm EDT hour, Cafferty returned with some replies sent by e-mail:
JACK CAFFERTY: The question this hour is, are the media being fair to both sides in the 2008 presidential race?

Robert in California, "Heck no! Of course the media aren't being fair. The Republicans are getting a free ride. Nobody's looking at the dirt and blood on the hands of the Republican candidates. Everyone's too busy looking at haircuts and blouses."

Paul writes, "Come on. Just state the truth. The media are overwhelmingly biased in favor of the Democrats. 90 percent of the media voted for Kerry. Can't you just admit it on TV or are you in a state of denial?"

Albert in Las Cruces, New Mexico, "It would only be fair if you were to give equal time to that write-in candidate (None of the Above). Will any of these people respect us the morning after the election?"

Mary in New York, "The media aren't looking to be fair to either side or to the audience either. What we hear and see is just so much junk: Hillary's cleavage, Edwards' haircut, Rudy's wives. Please, where's the time allotted to hear what these people have to say? One minute answers, three minutes? The debates are political pinball. Tilt, anyone?"

Jim in Florida writes, "For more years than I can count, the Democrats couldn't buy any air time. Now that the networks smell a change in the White House next year, they want to be on the side of power when it happens. Thus, the Democrats get the biggest share of exposure and the Republicans are shunned. Poetic justice after the opposite was true for far too long."

Harrison in Maryland writes, "No, they're not being fair at all. Legitimate candidates like Dennis Kucinich, Joe Biden, Ron Paul and others are only ever mentioned in the passing, not because they're not appealing candidates, but because they have not raised a tremendous amount of money. The reason they're unable to raise money is because they're not covered. It is a very sad circle."

And Nancy in Massachusetts says, "All are being fair except for the F-word network!" If you didn't see your e-mail here, go to CNN.com/CaffertyFile. We post more of them online along with video clips of the Cafferty File. She actually said Fox. I changed it.

BLITZER: I know you always do. Thanks, Jack, very much.
NewsBuster Mark Finkelstein alerted us to how on Thursday's Morning Joe, at about 6:10am EDT, Joe Scarborough read from a sheet of paper with the AP dispatch:
An AP article here: “Conservative media watchdog organization charged Wednesday that network morning news shows have spent a lot more time covering Democrats” -- running for President -- “than Republicans. 284 campaign segments to the Democratic candidates and 152 to Republicans.” Jim Bell said though, who is EP of the Today show, “you've got a former First Lady and a black Senator fighting for the nomination. That's historic. We're not going to make apologies for covering that.” That's interesting too.
The study, released Wednesday, was coordinated and written by MRC Research Director Rich Noyes, with research assistance from MRC news analysts/NewsBusters bloggers Geoffrey Dickens, Scott Whitlock and Justin McCarthy.

The PDF, which matches the hard copy, of the entire 18-page Special Report.

The HTML version of the full Special Report study, with a couple of video clips.

The text of the Executive Summary for the August 29 Special Report study:
Rise and Shine on Democrats
How the ABC, CBS and NBC Morning Shows Are Promoting Democrats On the Road to the White House

As the 2008 presidential campaign season gets underway, wide-open primary races in both the Republican and Democratic parties are competing for the media's attention. So are the broadcast networks covering both sides equally, or are they tilting the campaign playing field in favor of liberal Democratic candidates?

To find out, Media Research Center analysts reviewed all 517 campaign segments on ABC's Good Morning America, CBS's The Early Show and NBC's Today from January 1 through July 31. Those three broadcast morning shows draw nine times the audience of their cable news competitors, and are geared toward everyday voters, not political junkies. These programs are therefore a prime battleground in each campaign's quest for positive media attention.

The results are astonishing: Not only are the network morning shows overwhelmingly focused on Democrats, they are actively promoting the Democrats' liberal agenda.

Among the major findings:

# The networks offered nearly twice as much coverage of the Democrats. More than half of all campaign segments (284, or 55%) focused on the Democratic contest, compared with just 152 (29%) devoted to the Republicans. The remaining stories either offered roughly equal discussion of both parties or did not focus on the major parties.

# All three Democratic frontrunners received more attention than any of the top Republican candidates, with New York Senator Hillary Clinton receiving the most coverage of all.

# Undeclared liberal candidates such as former Vice President Al Gore and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg received more network TV attention than many of the declared Republican candidates.

# The network morning shows doled out nearly three times as much airtime (4 hours, 35 minutes) to interviews with the various Democratic campaigns. In contrast, the Republicans received just 1 hour and 44 minutes of interview airtime.

# In their interviews with the candidates, the network hosts emphasized a liberal agenda. Of the substantive questions that could be categorized as reflecting a political agenda, more than two-thirds (69%) of the questions to Democrats reflected a liberal premise, and more than four-fifths (82%) of the questions to Republicans came from the same perspective.

# The top Democratic candidates received much more favorable coverage than their GOP counterparts, with Senator Clinton cast as "unbeatable" and Illinois Senator Barack Obama tagged as a "rock star." The most prominent Republican, Arizona Senator John McCain, was portrayed as a loser because of his support for staying the course in Iraq.

# Not once did network reporters describe Senator Clinton and former North Carolina Senator John Edwards as "liberal," while ABC only once labeled Obama as "liberal." Yet the networks showed no hesitation in attaching the "liberal" label to Republican frontrunner Rudy Giuliani, who was so branded 12 times.

These early returns suggest that ABC, CBS and NBC are skewing their news in ways that will benefit the Democratic candidates in 2008. The broadcast networks have a responsibility to cover both parties in a fair and even-handed manner -- not for the sake of the candidates, but for the voters. That means giving viewers a chance to hear from all of the major candidates in interviews, asking them similar questions, and balancing the day-to-day news coverage to keep both Democratic and Republican primary voters equally well-informed.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center