Most of the time media bias is difficult to prove. Whatever the story might be, it’s not often possible to prove how the same material would have been handled if the party labels had been reversed. So the claim can often be made “we’d have done the same thing if it were a Democrat.”
But every once in a while events in the real world provide us a rare opportunity to make a direct comparison between how Republicans and Democrats are treated under very similar sets of circumstances. One of those rare opportunities happened over the last month and provides us with a textbook case of media bias.
In August of this year, Sarah Palin was scheduled to make an appearance in Florida. On August 17, the Florida Times-Union ran the following bit of news
Slow ticket sales have bumped Sarah Palin's appearance next week in Jacksonville to a smaller venue. "An Evening of Hope with Sarah Palin" was moved from the 2,936-seat Moran Theatre to the 609-seat Terry Theatre. Both theaters are part of the Times-Union Center for the Performing Arts.
This relatively minor local story was picked up by MSNBC
and the Guardian
the following day. A day after that, the AP did its own version which appeared on the website of the local NBC affiliate
and the local Fox affiliate
in Jacksonville but also on the website of the Boston Herald
. No word on why this would matter to readers in Boston.
Not wanting to be left out of the news cycle, CNN wrote
its own story about the downgrade. The Huffington Post
ran its version the next day.
The following week the St. Petersburg Times
mentioned the theater downgrade on their blog. And finally, the Miami Herald
included it in their Palin story the day after her appearance.
I’m leaving out dozens if not hundreds of blog posts and mentions at places like Democratic Underground and Little Green Footballs. Remember, the entire story here was that Palin’s appearance was downgraded from a 3,000 seat auditorium to a 600 seat theater because of slow ticket sales.
Thanks to Gail Sheehy at the Daily Beast, we learned that something similar happened to another politician last week
Only after I received four email invitations and two personal calls imploring me to come did I call Speaker Pelosi’s office to check the admission price. “You mean, to be in the room with the President of the United States is now on fire sale for $100..?"
“Do we need to line up early to get in?”
“That’s not necessary. Everybody will get in.”
And everybody did—450 people in a room that holds 650. Even Obama’s fire sale didn’t sell out.
Are you ready for the list of media outlets that covered Obama’ disappointing turn out?
Actually, it’s worse than that. Quite a few media outlets did cover the Obama event after a group of AIDS activists heckled the President during his speech. It’s just that none of the outlets that covered the heckling mentioned the slashed ticket prices or the fact that only 450 people showed up to a 650 seat ballroom. Even when they had an excuse to mention the disappointing turnout, they didn’t take it.
The Palin event in Florida and the Obama event in New York took place less than a month apart. Palin’s disappointing ticket sales (she sold out the smaller room) received regional news saturation and national press attention, but Obama’s failure to fill an almost identically sized hall didn’t get so much as a single independent press mention anywhere besides Gail Sheehy’s article at the Daily Beast.
What possible explanation can the media offer for the difference in the treatment of Palin and Obama, besides the obvious one?