NYT Bestsellers Receive Uneven Coverage from Networks

Wednesday's Example of Media Bias   —   Posted on September 16, 2009

Jump to...

Print

Directions

-Read the excerpt below from Matt Philbin and Zoe Ortiz's September 8th report posted at CultureandMedia.org.
-Read "Types of Media Bias" in the right column. Then answer the questions.

…Since the 1940s, authors whose works make the [New York Times’ Best-Seller] list have been assured of even more books sales and a shower of publicity.

But not when those authors or their books are conservative. In such cases, the three broadcast networks greeted them with silence at worst and skepticism at best.

During the first six months of 2009, 25 books that can be described as “liberal” or “conservative” appeared on the New York Times Hardcover Nonfiction Best-Seller List. More of those books (14) were liberal, but conservative authors enjoyed a combined total of 95 weeks on the List. Liberals had 80. At this writing Michelle Malkin’s “Culture of Corruption” had been on the list for four weeks, and was currently at No.1.

But no matter how commercially successful conservative books and authors have been, they were slighted by the three broadcast networks. The most glaring evidence of bias against conservative books was the networks’ complete neglect of the single most successful book on the list, radio host Mark Levin’s “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto.” Levin’s book spent 12 weeks at No.1, and as of this writing had yet to fall out of the top 10.

The Culture and Media Institute analyzed how ABC, CBS and NBC covered those 25 hardcover nonfiction best-sellers, and found that the networks gave liberal books and authors dramatically more (and more favorable) coverage than their conservative counterparts. Of the 11 conservative authors on the list, just 4 received any coverage on the networks.

On the other hand, the networks covered 11 out of 14 liberal authors. Of the three not covered, one was not an author in the conventional sense – it was President Obama, and the “book” was his January 20 inauguration speech.

When authors appeared on the networks for interviews, conservatives received markedly different treatment than liberals. From Matt Lauer calling [liberal] Elizabeth Edwards’ book “stirring,” to Harry Smith telling [conservative] Ann Coulter, “You have this kind of sophomoric sort of simplistic kind of view of so many things,” hosts made it clear where their ideological sympathies lay.

Liberty, Tyranny and Silence

Reaching No. 1 on the Nonfiction Hardcover List is a notable achievement. To maintain that spot for more than a single week is truly impressive.

Two liberal authors reached the No.1 spot on the List in 2009. Elizabeth Edwards’ “Resilience” was No.1 for just one week and Thomas Friedman’s “Hot, Flat, and Crowded” held that spot for two weeks.

They received media coverage befitting No.1 best-sellers, garnering nine instances of coverage on the networks between the two.

But there was another book that hit No.1. In fact, it held the No.1 spot for 12 of 18 weeks, and has yet to fall under the No. 4 spot. (Also, at this writing, it ranked No. 24 on Amazon.com, and has enjoyed 186 days in Amazon’s Top 100.)

That book, “Liberty and Tyranny: A Conservative Manifesto,” by conservative political commentator and nationally syndicated radio-host Mark Levin, was by far the most successful book on the list – nothing even came close. …

[The subject of] “Liberty and Tyranny” is an improbable best-seller. And that makes it all the more newsworthy.

Yet Levin’s book received zero coverage from any of the networks since its release on March 29. Nor did his name appear on any of the news programs since the release.

Contrast that with Edwards’ and Friedman’s nine instances of coverage for books that spent one and two weeks respectively at the top of the list. Equivalent coverage for Levin would require 36 mentions on the networks.

And the media blackout of “Liberty and Tyranny” extended beyond the networks and has been nearly complete.

Levin confirmed to CMI that “we have not heard from any of the major networks, and the only major newspaper that has interviewed me is Philadelphia Enquirer, and that’s because I’m from Philadelphia.”

The lack of mainstream media attention made “Liberty and Tyranny’s” success the more stunning. “The book is selling by word of mouth,” Levin said. “I’ve done very little media, and its chugging along.” …

The Numbers Don’t Add Up

… With a 4-to-1 discrepancy, ABC was the most biased network, covering liberal books and authors eight times, and conservatives just twice. NBC was a close second. It covered liberals 20 times and conservatives only six.

CBS offered the most balanced coverage, with eight liberals to five conservatives.  …

Recommendations

The mainstream media often argue that where liberal bias does exist, it’s a byproduct of the natural pursuit of ratings and ad revenue. CMI’s study of authors clearly refutes this, at least in the case of network coverage of liberal vs. conservative authors.

Conservative books led liberal books in time on the Best-Seller List and in the highest positions they achieved. At this writing, Michelle Malkin’s “Culture of Corruption” was at No.1 on the List. “A Bold Fresh Piece of Humanity,” “Catastrophe,” and “Liberty and Tyranny” all kept their berths in the list’s top 10.

By ignoring these and other very successful conservative titles, the networks do themselves and their viewers a disservice. They must work to balance the quantity and quality of coverage they give to liberal and conservative authors.

While one-for-one parity isn’t necessary, producers should keep in mind which authors and what books they’ve covered recently, and try to ensure diversity of perspective. Networks should consider the popularity of the books. Perhaps they should consider only a liberal or conservative book’s popularity according to the List when planning coverage.

Interviewers should either read and compliment the books of both sides, or refrain from complimenting any of them. Network personalities who want to avoid charges of bias shouldn’t be applying words like “stunning” and “stirring” to the books of liberals while calling conservatives “sophomoric” and “outrageous.” Before interviewing someone from either side, hosts should review the tone and type of questioning they used the last time an author was on. …

Read the report in its entirety at cultureandmediainstitute.org.

Questions

1.  What types of bias are found in the Culture and Media report on ABC, CBS and NBC’s coverage of best-selling authors?

2.  Re-read the “Recommendations” (the last 5 paragraphs) of this excerpt.  For each recommendation, state whether you agree or disagree and explain your opinion.


Scroll down to the bottom of the page for the answers.
























Answer(s)

1.  Bias by omission, selection of sources, story selection, spin.

2.  Opinion question. Answers vary.