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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