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Who Benefits From 'Media Bias': The Charismatic Obama Or That Stiff Romney?

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When we hear “media bias” we assume the bias is ideological. But reporters, editors and producers have other biases too.

Here’s a do-it-yourself scorecard to guess how biased you think journalists will be in covering Mitt Romney and Barack Obama. I developed this in 2008 to rate media bias in the Obama-McCain contest, and alluded to it last week in an appraisal of this year’s race.

Just add your 10 scores and divide by 10 to get the “Media Bias Quotient.”

Story

Which story will the media find more compelling: reelection of our first African-American president or election of a Mormon Multimillionaire Massachusetts Moderate?

Media Bias Quotient: Romney, 20 percent; Obama, 80 percent

Quote-Worthy

Romney is more gaffe-prone than Obama and reporters appreciate his odd ad-libs. (Romney said last week, "I’m not familiar precisely with exactly what I said, but I stand by what I said, whatever it was.")  Both candidates use teleprompters, but they’ll say strange (i.e. newsworthy) things in interviews, press conferences and debates.

Romney, 55 percent; Obama, 45 percent

Excitement

In 2008, Obama campaign rallies were exciting; supporters were thrilled to be “part of history.” But now, Obama crowds are smaller and less enthusiastic. Romney is not rousing on his best day and he’s not considered charismatic. However, as the race intensifies and polls show that Romney could win, some supporters will feign excitement.

Romney, 40 percent; Obama, 60 percent

Humor

Obama has proven on occasion, like the White House Correspondents Dinner, that he can deliver a joke as capably as a professional comedian. Romney can be funny in private conversation, but when trying to be amusing in a speech or debate, it’s painful. Reporters put a high premium on wit; they tend to have an irreverent view of the world.

Romney, 25 percent; Obama, 75 percent

Oratory

Obama won the 2008 Democratic nomination through speechifying. However, as president he hasn’t been very effective as an orator. Since he is the incumbent, he can’t use soaring rhetoric to inspire hope for change. He’s supposed to be “the change we have been waiting for.” Romney has improved as a speaker, but still seems stiff and scripted.

Romney, 35 percent; Obama, 65 percent

Access

Reporters strive to get “exclusive” interviews with the candidates. But both campaigns want to shield their candidate from questions that could catch them off guard and cause a gaffe. Obama can employ a “Rose Garden strategy” to keep reporters at a safe distance. But Romney, as challenger, will risk more interviews on the campaign trail.

Romney, 80 percent; Obama, 20 percent

Anti-Establishment

Reporters tend to be suspicious of Big Anything – Big Government or Big Business. It’s in their job description to be skeptical on behalf of the Little People. Obama was the “hope and change” outsider in 2008, opposing McCain, a D.C. insider, but this time Obama represents Big Government. And Romney personifies Big Business.

Romney, 50 percent; Obama, 50 percent

Visuals

Both campaigns try to keep their candidates from doing things that can be used in TV spots by the opposition — like Mike Dukakis in a tank or John Kerry wind surfing. But they both want to stage flattering “photo ops” to reinforce their “message of the day.” Any president has the clear advantage in image making. Air Force One is a great prop.

Romney, 20 percent; Obama, 80 percent

Debate/Conflict 

Like all storytellers, the media needs conflict. Formal debate is an obvious flashpoint, but there is daily debate through “earned media” — including debate between spokespersons. As president, Obama has the advantage of tax-paid PR staff (not just White House communications, but PR staff in cabinet departments and agencies).

Romney, 45 percent; Obama, 55 percent

Cool

Reporters must stay plugged into the zeitgeist, so they appreciate a candidate who is contemporary in outlook and style. That’s Obama. He and JFK are the cool presidents. By contrast, if you Google the terms, “Romney, hip” you will find headlines about being “joined at the hip,” “not a hip cat,” and Ann Romney “hip checks husband’s critics.”

Romney, 20 percent; Obama, 80 percent

TOTAL AVERAGE: Romney, 39 percent; Obama, 61 percent

Remember, media bias isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As Dave Barry explained, “I would not know how I am supposed to feel about many stories if not for the fact that the TV news personalities make sad faces for sad stories and happy faces for happy stories.”

This program aired on May 25, 2012. The audio for this program is not available.

Todd Domke Twitter Republican Political Analyst
Todd Domke is a Republican political analyst for WBUR.

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