Opinion: Conservative Media Bias Exposed?
Conservatives scoffed at the notion. But maybe Olbermann has a point.
After all, when it comes to conservatives, reporters can't seem to get enough of them.
Indeed, a Pew Research Center survey found that of the top 10 most-covered candidates in the midterm elections, conservatives held the top three spots.
Here's more evidence. I asked AOL's Relegence team, which tracks more than 30,000 news sites on the Web, to compare coverage of comparable liberals and conservatives over the past 12 months.
The results are stark. Conservatives were featured in vastly more stories.
Here are three illustrative examples.
Palin vs. Biden
On the conservative side is Sarah Palin, the gaffe-prone politician who occasionally lapses into blue language and lost her bid for vice president in the 2008 election. On the other side is Joe Biden, the winning 2008 vice presidential candidate, who's also prone to misspeak and use blue language.
While Palin is a publicity hound, Biden actually has a hold on the reins of power. Presumably, what he thinks and does matters in the real world, unlike Palin.
So who got more coverage? There's no contest. There were, according to Relegence, almost 62,000 stories in which Palin figured prominently -- almost three times the number that featured Biden. There wasn't a single month in 2010 where Biden got more coverage than Palin. Here are the totals for the year.
O'Donnell vs. Greene
Conservative Christine O'Donnell was an unqualified, kooky candidate who took everyone by surprise when she beat a far better known, established candidate for the Republican Senate nomination in Delaware. Liberal Alvin Greene was a completely unqualified, kooky candidate who also shocked everyone by getting the Democratic nomination for Senate over four-term South Carolina state lawmaker Vic Rawl. Both went on to decisively lose their elections.
Now it's true that O'Donnell was a character, but so too was Greene, who had a felony charge on his record and had never campaigned for the nomination. Plus there was concern that the electronic voting systems might have failed in South Carolina, causing Greene's win. But while the media went gaga over O'Donnell, by comparison they ignored Greene. Here are the totals for the year.
Beck vs. Olbermann
As everyone with a pulse knows, Glenn Beck is the sometimes controversial host of the No. 4 rated show on Fox News. And Olbermann is the sometimes controversial host of the No. 1 show on MSNBC.
On which gum-flapper did the press shower more coverage? You guessed it. Beck crushed Olbermann. Month after month, Beck racked up hundreds, if not thousands, of stories. In contrast, Olbermann typically only got a few dozen stories a month in which he was featured prominently -- except for the month when he was temporarily suspended. Here are the totals for the year.
This is, admittedly, a small sample, and there are no doubt some counterexamples. Plus, the data don't capture tone or message of this coverage. But my guess is that if you looked at other newsmakers on the right you'd find a similar pattern.
Are these conservatives really that much more newsworthy than their liberal counterparts?
That seems highly unlikely.
So what is the reason? Is it a right-wing tilt, along the lines Olbermann complained about? Or is it that liberal reporters just find conservatives and their ideas more unfamiliar, odd or just plain worrisome, making their utterances appear more worthy of coverage?
I'll leave it to the media watchdogs on both sides to battle over what bias is at work here.
But whatever the motivation, one this is clear: The news media tend to give conservatives a very big megaphone.