The Conversation

Atlantic: Unknown Wendy Davis Got the Same Media Attention as U.S. Senator Ted Cruz

The Atlantic Wire says conservatives are wrong on the facts about coverage of Wendy Davis and Ted Cruz. Here's the chart that supposedly proves it:

Here's the explanation focused on the blue bars:

As you can see, Cruz's speech was mentioned in the press 422 times on Tuesday and Wednesday, to Davis' 471 during the comparable period. But there are two other reasons to think that Cruz's numbers are undercounted. First, his wasn't a filibuster, so news organizations being sticklers about verbiage wouldn't show in the Nexis results. Second, Cruz's speech just ended. By midnight, it's almost certain that the number of times he's been mentioned in the media will increase significantly.

So we've just proven that Davis got about the same amount of coverage as Cruz. Maybe a little less once all is said and done, but very similar. 

Apparently it's necessary to state the blindingly obvious at this point. Wendy Davis is a State Senator. Her filibuster took place in the Texas Senate regarding a bill which, once passed, would only affect Texas. As a rule, State Senators do not receive the same media attention as U.S. Senators even if they do the same things.

To show that unknown Davis and lighting rod Cruz got the same amount of media is to admit that Davis got far more than anyone in a comparable position has received recently. That Wendy Davis got the amount of coverage she did is extraordinary.

Which brings us to the red bar in the graph. This represents mentions in the week leading up to and including the filibuster. As you can see, Cruz got way more attention than unknown State Senator Wendy Davis. This is supposed to surprise us? If anything, what this shows is that she literally came out of nowhere. If you click over to David Graham's piece he notes "It was only over the ensuing week that her [Davis'] star rose." In other words, that red bar took off for Davis the week after her speech not before.

All of this is really beside the point. The question is not whether U.S. Senator Ted Cruz almost got almost as much coverage as unknown State Senator Wendy Davis or slightly more. The question is what type of coverage each got. Bump writes "Ted Cruz has been coveredly thoroughly and frequently by the press — not always complimentarily, but incessantly."

MSNBC covered Mitt Romney incessantly during the election. The fact that nearly all of this coverage was negative is sort of significant. There is really no point in putting up a graph of how many stories MSNBC devoted to Romney unless you also go the next step, as Pew did, and break down the coverage into positive and negative stories. When you do you find that Romney got a raw deal at MSNBC.

The same is true of Ted Cruz. Nearly 100 percent of the coverage of Davis was glowing to the point of reverential. I don't know what the percentage would be for Cruz but it's probably less than 50 percent. This matters a lot more than a raw number of mentions. Simply put, unknown State Senator Wendy Davis got vastly more positive press than U.S. Senator Ted Cruz for opposing a bill which a plurality of Texans actually supported.

Contrary to the Atlantic Wire, the media does not deserve "three cheers" for either the quality or quantity of coverage. The problem isn't the sour coverage of Cruz so much as the gushing, uncritical praise of Davis.


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