Bias on MSNBC & Fox News

An Empirical Analysis of the Content Found on Cable News

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Debates about the level of political bias on cable news are abundant- yet there is little empirical research on the actual content of these networks today. Below is a pilot analysis of the content on MSNBC and Fox News.

Utilizing a comprehensive content coding schema, I was able to illustrate levels of tone, subjectivity, and bias within a defined sample of MSNBC and Fox News. The sample under consideration is comprised of two primetime shows on each network from two separate weekdays (03/08/11 and 03/10/11).

MSNBC

-       The Rachel Maddow Show (9pm) and Hardball with Chris Matthews (5pm & 7pm)

Fox News Channel

-       The O’Reilly Factor (8pm) and Hannity (9pm)

Tone

The analysis shows that both networks present overwhelmingly negative coverage of the news and politics.

Objectivity

Subjectivity is defined as any opinionated commentary as compared to objective, fact-based statements. Here, we see both networks relying heavily on subjective content in their newscasts.

Political Bias

The charts below show that both networks contain a great deal of partisan bias in their reporting.  In keeping with popular perceptions, MSNBC reports much more positively on the Democratic Party and Fox News reports more positively on the Republican Party.  Interestingly, in both cases we see the cable networks spending more time denigrating the opposition party than praising the party they tend to support.

MSNBC:

Fox News:

 

Please contact rebecca@emandp.com for methodological details or the complete study.

 

Related Reading:

Auletta, Ken. "Vox Fox: How Roger Ailes and Fox News are Changing Cable News." The New Yorker, May 26, 2003.

Coe, Kevin, David Tewksbury, Bradley J. Bond, Kristin L. Drogos, Robert W. Porter, Ashley Yahn, and Yuanyuan Zhang. "Hostile News: Partisan Use and Perceptions of Cable News Programming." Journal of Communication 58, no. 2 (2008): 201–219.

Bae, Hyuhn-Suhck. "Product differentiation in national TV newscasts: A comparison of the cable all-news networks and the broadcast networks." Journal of Broadcasting and Electronic Media 44 (2000): 62-77.

Hart, Roderick P. Seducing America: How Television Charms the Modern Voter. rev. ed. Thousand Oaks: SAGE Publications, 1999.

Morris, Jonathan S. "The Fox News Factor." The Harvard International Journal of Press/Politics. 10 (2005): 56-79.

Morris, Jonathan S. "Slanted Objectivity? Perceived Media Bias, Cable News Exposure, and Political Attitudes." Social Science Quarterly 88 (2007): 707–728.

Mutz, Diana C. "How the Mass Media Divide Us." In Red and Blue Nation. Washington, D.C.: Brookings Institution Press, 2007. 223-248.

Project for Excellence in Journalism. "Cable TV." The State of the News Media 2006. http://stateofthemedia.org/2006/a-day-in-the-life-of-the-media-intro/cable-tv/

Schudson, Michael. "Social Origins of Press Cynicism in Portraying Politics." American Behavioral Scientist 42, no. 6 (1999): 998-1008.

Sherman, Gabriel. "Chasing Fox The loud, cartoonish blood sport that’s engorged MSNBC, exhausted CNN—and is making our body politic delirious." New York Magazine, October 3, 2010. http://nymag.com/news/media/68717/

Stroud, Natalie Jomini. Niche News: The politics of news choice. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.