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GOP Race: What A Strange, Strange Trip It’s Been…

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Now that the caucus votes in Iowa have been cast, it’s time to look back on the race for the Republican Presidential nominee so far. And what a race it’s been! In a year where the pundits tell us the electorate is looking for an “outsider”, we’ve seen a lobbyist and former central banker  (Herman Cain), a disgraced House Leader with a penchant for lobbyists’ cash and affairs (Newt Gingrich) and now the king of earmarks (at least a billion dollars) and deep friend to lobbyists who lost his seat by the widest margin in the history of his state (Rick Santorum) all top the polls at some point. We’ve seen a Governor who can’t count to three (Rick Perry), a House Representative with a tentative relationship with truthfulness (Michele Bachmann) and a candidate who dropped out before a single vote was cast (Tim Pawlenty). And another House Representative who stakes out positions his opponents refuse to even consider worthy of debate, but who received one in five votes in Iowa (Ron Paul), while another candidate changes positions with remarkable fluidity to suit the mood of the electorate and is considered the “presumptive nominee” despite seemingly incapable of rising above 25% in the polls, no matter how much money he spends, how many endorsements he gets or which position he stakes out on a particular day (Mitt Romney).

Throughout the debates we’ve seen flat out lies, and lots of them: Iran has promised to launch a nuclear attack against the United States (Bachmann, and Santorum and Gingrich, to lesser extents), the HPV innoculation can lead to brain disease (Bachmann again), a panel made up of seven Democrats and seven Republicans, and which voted thirteen to one for sanctions against the House Speaker, was a “partisan attack” (Gingrich), and many more.

We’ve learned that Newt Gingrich was in favor of a personal health mandate when that view point paid (a reported $37 million to his foundation) but is against it now (at least since March). Mitt Romney was in favor of it too, and implemented it, but now considers it unconstitutional.

Rick Santorum, we learned, wants to bomb Iran and then “publicize it”, and says not a penny can be cut from the military (while the United States spends more on its military than the next twenty countries combined). He also believes the Constitution does not confer the right of privacy to individuals, including the right to consensual relations between two people in the privacy of their home (he really believes this, including a husband and wife).

The US spends more on the military than the next 20 countries combined.

We’ve seen two candidates on, essentially, book tours who suddenly found themselves leading the pack, and just as suddenly found themselves back on book tours (Gingrich and Cain).

We’ve seen a candidate who fought hard for hundreds of millions of dollars in earmarks for a company which immediately put him on their payroll once he was trouced out of office by a disgusted electorate (Santorum). And billed taxpayers $72,000 per year for private school for his children while in office. He now runs as the “outsider” and the “true conservative”.

We’ve seen a contender who thinks any position other than “pro-war” is “dangerous”, but who repeatedly refused when he was drafted into the military (Gingrich).

And throughout it all, we’ve watched a restless electorate switch their support from one flawed candidate to another, while the political pundits label each candidate “top tier”, until their fifteen minutes are up (see Bachmann, Perry, Cain, Gingrich and, soon, Santorum). That same electorate has sent to the top of the polls some of the most deeply “establishment”, big-government, big-spending candidates who have been working the system for years.

What a strange, strange trip it’s been…

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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