the LYNCH report

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Is Ron Paul Getting a Fair Shake in the Media? Watching the Watchers…

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This is the first in a series of articles examining media coverage of the run up to the 2012 US Presidential election. Today we examine the media response to the Iowa Republican straw poll and attempt to find an empirical answer as to whether the media is under-reporting Ron Paul’s candidacy.

Ron Paul, one of the Republicans hoping to become his party’s Presidential nominee, is an interesting candidate: an obstetrician / gynecologist who has been a member of the House of Representatives on and off for 22 years (1976 to 1977, and again from 1979 to 1985, representing Texas’ 22nd District; 1997 to present representing Texas’ 14th District), Dr Paul has for three decades been considered “on the fringe” of the Republican Party, holding views centered on liberty, freedom and the supremacy of the United States Constitution. Recently, it seems his party is coming around to his views: witness the sudden clamoring for an audit of the Federal Reserve (something Dr Paul has been proposing for many, many years now) and the likewise anti-foreign war tilt of many (but not, notably, all) Republican Presidential aspirants.

But is Ron Paul getting a fair shake from the media? Here is a candidate who set single-day fundraising records in 2007 (and 99.42% of his funding came from individual contributors, with not a cent from federal funding), who has been ahead of the curve on several key issues (notably economic bubbles caused by federal monetary policy and the sagacity of foreign military adventures) and just today finished an extremely close second to Michele Bachmann in the Iowa Republican Presidential straw poll (Mrs Bachmann beat him by just 152 votes). Yet there are more media mentions of Tim Pawlenty, who finished a distant third, receiving fewer than half of Dr Paul’s votes. Does it just seem like Ron Paul isn’t getting the recognition he deserves with a second place finish in the straw poll, or is the media actually giving the Paul campaign the cold shoulder?

To examine this in further detail, we compared the results of the straw poll with media coverage of that same poll by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post, CNN, the Huffington Post and Fox News, which we picked arbitrarily. We examined each article and counted the number of references to each prospective Presidential candidate, as well as the number of paragraphs in which each candidate’s name appears, and then expressed these numbers as a percentage of all candidates’ numbers of mentions and paragraphs.

Here’s the executive summary:

  • Every single one of the news sources we chose gave a disproportionately low number of mentions and paragraphs to candidate Paul, and in some cases, substantially;
  • In every case, Tim Pawlenty, the third place finisher, received more mentions and more paragraphs than Ron Paul;
  • The discrepancy between Mr Paul’s straw poll result and subsequent article mentions was the largest in the Los Angeles Times article: despite garnering 27.65% of the Iowa straw poll results, the LA Times article mentioned Mr Paul just twice, in a single paragraph. By comparison, Tim Pawlenty received half as many votes as Mr Paul but received three mentions. Mitt Romney, who wasn’t even part of the straw poll, likewise received three mentions, over three separate paragraphs;
  • After the Los Angeles times, the publications with the greatest disparity between Mr Paul’s Iowa showing and the coverage they afforded him were (in order of largest disprepancy to narrowest): New York Times, Huffington Post, Washington Post, CNN and Fox News;
  • Rick Perry’s attempt to distract attention from the Iowa straw poll worked: Mr Perry received 49 mentions in the articles we surveyed, compared to 47 for the straw poll winner, Michele Bachmann, and just 18 for Ron Paul;
  • Herman Cain received fewer than one-third of the votes Mr Paul received, however CNN mentioned him as many times, in the same number of paragraphs, as Dr Paul;
  • Fox News came closest to giving each candidate a number of mentions and paragraphs proportional to that candidate’s poll showing (but Ron Paul was still substantially under-represented).

*****Update 1: strange too how the results of the Ames straw poll were announced by the organizers – or rather, weren’t:  Michele Bachmann was announced as the winner, and that was it – no announcement of how the rest of the field fared, which is particularly strange given that Ron Paul came in second by just 152 votes. You can see the announcement here (see also around the 2:35 mark, as Paul’s numbers are shown on the board and the crowd reacts).


*****Update 2: today (Sunday, August 14th, 2011) the New York Times ran an article titled, “After Iowa, Republicans Face a New Landscape” written by Jeff Zeleny and Michael D. Shear. The article spends 27 paragraphs discussing the remaining potential Republican Presidential nominees in light of Tim Pawlenty’s withdrawal from the race. In those 27 paragraphs, the candidate who missed winning the Ames straw poll by just 152 votes is given this single sentence, in the second-to-last paragraph: “Representative Ron Paul of Texas, who finished a close second in the straw poll, could also influence the race with his strain of libertarian views that have become more popular in this economic climate.”

*****Update 3: Jon Stewart ran an excellent segment about the concerted effort to ignore Mr Paul:

Here is the data in chart form (in order of largest “Ron Paul discrepancy” to least): red lines indicate percentage of votes received in the Iowa straw poll by the candidate; white lines indicate percentage of paragraph mentions for the candidate (as compared to total number of paragraphs in which all candidates’ names appear, ie not to the total number of paragraphs in the article); blue lines indicate total number of mentions of the candidates’ names in the article:

LA Times Iowa Straw Poll Coverage

13 Responses

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  1. Ron Paul clearly won this poll.

    Bachman is from Iowa and is a representative in a neighboring state. She gave away 6000 tickets to her Randy Travis concert at the event and still only received roughly 4800 votes.


    August 14, 2011 at 1:12 am

    • We thought the same thing: the hometown candidate sure didn’t win by much! Mr Paul, on the other hand, went from a fifth place finish in the prior straw poll to essentially a tie for first. Not bad for a “fringe” candidate.

      In any case, it is difficult to explain the lack of coverage Mr Paul has received without first concluding the media does not wish to see a Paul Presidential nominee. We’ll continue to track these issues for both parties.


      August 14, 2011 at 8:00 am

  2. I think Ron Paul is doomed. He’s a “Libertarian” (I capitalized that term because that’s his party, because he’s not really a libertarian). In the American political scheme, he’s fiscally conservative, and socially in the middle. His views on drugs and marriage are liberal, but his views on abortion and a few other social issues are fairly conservative.

    So he’s a fiscally conservative candidate. Great. There are far too many of them for him to be able to distinguish himself in that category. But he’s not conservative or liberal when it comes to social issues on the whole. And so his appeal is largely diminished. Liberals won’t give him much of a thought, as he’s liberal on too few issues. Independents may lean toward him, but again, his viewpoints are mostly conservative, so they may lean to the liberals for social reasons. The stronger conservatives will lean to Bachmann, Pawlenty, and others.

    And I’ll bet Cain will take many of his votes. I don’t see him winning the nomination.


    August 14, 2011 at 1:42 am

    • Interesting comment, which seems to echo establishment thinking about whether Ron Paul can be a “viable” candidate.

      The term “conservative” in the United States has seemingly come to mean some uniquely American things, first and foremost, strongly anti-libertarian views on things like gay marriage, the “war” on drugs, immigration, defence, taxation and spending (the current “conservative” hero, Ronald Reagan, after all, raised taxes twelve times and increased spending, the debt and the deficit dramatically), strong religious beliefs, etc., none of which are small “C” conservative concepts. What neither party represents is true fiscal conservatism (a greater number of Republicans than Democrates voted in favor of the debt ceiling increase, after all) coupled with liberal (in the classical small “L” sense of the term) social views.

      Where we think your analysis may be off is in thinking party affiliation still matters: the majority, and by far the fastest growing, segment of voters is now independents, with no party affiliation, who tend to hold “conservative” fiscal views and “liberal” social views (both in the classic senses, not as currently defined by either party).

      The two advantages we give Dr Paul are:

      – his record, over thirty years, is consistent: his votes have been consistent with the philosophy he espouses and he isn’t a wild card when it comes to “what you see is what you get”, and

      – his fundraising abilities are vast and come entirely from the “grass-roots”, not PACs or unions or other groups.

      Does this mean he’ll win his party’s nomination? Highly unlikely, because, as mentioned earlier, the Republican party in its current state isn’t particularly in favor of individual liberty, there are enormous forces aligned against Dr Paul via those who profit from military spending and a large government and the media seems to have already largely concluded Mitt Romney or Rick Perry will get the Republican nomination (see the media coverage analysis).

      Whether Ron Paul gets the nomination isn’t really the point, though. The real question the article attempts to examine is: to what degree does the media decide in advance who will be nominated and grant disproportionate coverage to those favored candidates? Come back to the site over the next fifteen months and we’ll continue to try to answer that question as empirically as possible.


      August 14, 2011 at 7:53 am

      • Well, party affiliation matters when it comes to winning the nomination. If you don’t win the nomination, then it’s very, very difficult to become president. I myself am a registered independent, but without partisan support, the presidency is an unattainable goal.

        And the results of the election will tell if Paul gets a fair shake. McCain didn’t, and he lost the election. Nixon didn’t (against JFK) and he lost.


        August 14, 2011 at 8:00 am

  3. Fair point, but bear in mind that at least 25 states have open or semi-open primaries or caucuses (California will join the open primary states this year). What you’re getting at is, I think, precisely what we’re attempting to explore: does the media coverage of the potential nominees limit the viability of a candidate in his or her party’s nomination process? I suppose we make the assumption that those people exposed to media coverage who have party affiliation are equally likely to be influenced by such coverage as independents, which may or may not be true. In any case, the fundamental assumption being made in our study is that the media attention a candidate receives may influence the outcome of that candidate’s run. If that assumption doesn’t hold true (and we’re pretty confident of a very strong correlation – more on that to come in future articles which will attempt to look at historical media coverage), then it doesn’t matter whether a candidate gets a hundred percent of the media’s attention or zero percent or any spot in between.

    We don’t fully agree that the results of the election provide complete information about whether a candidate received fair treatment from the media, because in that case the candidate who receives the most coverage will always win, and that would seem to very strongly favor incumbents. But there’s definitely a strong correlation (there is a demonstrable “incumbent advantage”).

    It’s important to note that we define “a fair shake” as “number of mentions” but do not in any way attempt to measure the quality of those mentions (because to do so would necessarily introduce a subjective analysis – we’re attempting to rely on purely objective measurements here). So a negative mention in an article gets equal weight as a positive mention.


    August 14, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    • In that case, I take issue with your study. Considering the enormous clout the media has when it comes to elections, a negative mention for one candidate is akin to a positive mention to another (definitely so in the actual presidential election, but not necessarily so for the primaries).

      Now, I’ve read a few articles/studies on the incumbent. As you know, the incumbent has a huge advantage over the challenger. There are many theories postulated about this, but the theory I believe makes the most sense is succinctly summarized by “better the devil we know.” So for an incumbent, positive press is certainly better than negative press, but it doesn’t actually make too much of a difference insofar as the results of the election. Bush’s approval rating in 2003-4 was floating around the 40s, if memory serves, and yet he won the election. That’s an advantage the incumbent already has, as well as automatic media coverage.


      August 14, 2011 at 10:00 pm

  4. Interesting commentary on this subject by Jon Stewart – you can find it here:


    August 19, 2011 at 10:48 pm

  5. […] to our article examining the media’s treatment of Ron Paul, there’s an amusing article in US News & World Report today: a person who they identify […]

  6. […] fared very poorly, while the candidate the media loves to ignore (see our article, “Is Ron Paul Getting a Fair Shake From the Media? Watching the Watchers…” for our analysis of media coverage granted Mr Paul relative to the other candidates and also […]

  7. […] race, and more commonly simply not mentioned. We examined this in some detail in our article “Is Ron Paul Getting a Fair Shake in the Media? Watching the Watchers“ following Ron Paul’s narrow loss to Michele Backmann in the Ohio straw poll. Today, […]

    the LYNCH report

    October 16, 2011 at 10:56 am

  8. […] eighty-nine seconds of air time at the South Carolina candidates debate on foreign policy, or, as we previously reported, his lack of coverage after finishing second in the Ames, Iowa straw poll (missing first place by […]

  9. I hear you. Everything sucks, and then you blog.

    The end.

    Priyadarshini Soman

    August 16, 2012 at 4:52 am

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