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The diary currently at the top of the rec list makes an emphatic point about misplaced priorities in the mainstream American news media.  Its hundreds of comments are in nearly unanimous agreement.  Indeed, "misplaced priorities" are endemic to the traditional press, as any remotely observant citizen has long known.

The central claim of the diary and its comments is straightforward: Charlie Sheen is receiving too much coverage relative to Wisconsin and the Middle East.  However, evaluating it fairly requires separating it into two parts: the normative claim that the coverage is imbalanced, and the implicit empirical claim that Sheen is receiving a considerable amount of coverage relative to important national and international issues.  Many of the comments, in fact, explicitly suggest that Sheen received more coverage than Wisconsin and/or the Middle East.  The normative claim, of course, is a matter of opinion.  However, its empirical underpinning can in fact be examined -- and that's the task to which I turn.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism (PEJ) undertakes a massive daily content analysis of more than 50 news outlets in order to keep an ongoing, real-time archive of the news media's agenda.  Weekly summaries of their collection can be found on their website.  It's not completely comprehensive -- they cover all of prime-time, and then sample from the daytime (more on their methods here).

Their last weekly report covers the 7 days ending Sunday.  While it doesn't cover Sheen's CNN interview last night, it certainly encompasses the most intense period of the Sheen controversy.  So what do they find?

From February 21-27, events in the Middle East, dominated by the precarious situation in Libya, accounted for 35% of the newshole, according to the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism.

In fact, 35% of the newshole -- meaning total number of printed words or airtime that week -- was taken up by the Middle East.  It varied by outlet, of course -- more on that in a moment.  

What about Wisconsin?  This one's trickier:

The week’s No. 2 story was also sizable by traditional standards of the press agenda. The economy filled 24% of the newshole studied. About three-quarters of that was focused on state budget battles, currently playing out most dramatically in Wisconsin, which seemed to portend historic implications about the future of the labor union movement in America.

So, "about three-quarters" of 24% was devoted to "state budget battles," of which WI was obviously the most highly covered.  Let's call it 18%.

Now how about Sheen?  As it turns out, his coverage was so trivial that it did not even make the report.  And no, they don't exclude celebrity news -- I recall seeing weeks in which figures like Britney Spears and Mark McGuire played prominently in the news hole.  So, while we can't locate the exact percentage, it must have been less than the 3% received by the Somali pirates (the lowest-ranking story to make the list).

Perhaps cable news -- which by far bears the brunt of the criticism here -- was worse.  Fortunately, the report briefly discussed the cable news hole, albeit sparsely.  Still, the results were fascinating:

Middle East: 72%
Economy: 11%

Middle East: 19%
Economy: 46%

Middle East: 5%
Economy: 65%

First, my mind boggles at the differences between networks.  I watch a lot of CNN, so I'm not surprised by the 72% for the Middle East.  It's pretty much all they've covered in prime-time recently.  But just 5% on MSNBC?  Wow!  

But what about Sheen?  Again, he's not listed.  If he were the subject of every single other story -- which is extremely unlikely -- then the media critics would have a valid point, at least for MSNBC and Fox.  

To conclude (briefly, since typing with a broken finger sucks):  I applaud the diarist and community for keeping a careful watch on the traditional press.  One of the most important functions of the blogosphere is to amplify important stories that fail to pass through the old-guard media filter.  However, the empirical evidence presented above for whether they actually are overplaying Sheen and underplaying the two big stories is, at best, mixed; and in some cases, it seems to be contradicted by the data.  As I noted at the outset, one can easily look at the data and draw any number of normative conclusions.  Perhaps you think that any coverage of Sheen is too much, or that Wisconsin is the single most important thing happening right now, by a considerable margin.  Those are all defensible points.  But it's important as well to keep the normative arguments grounded in data, to the best of our abilities.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (31+ / 0-)

    Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

    by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:04:46 PM PST

  •  T&R awesome diary (10+ / 0-)

    I read that other diary and I felt it was a pointless rant, but I knew it would make the rec list.

    While the American media certainly spends way too much time, effort, and ink on pointless distractions (balloon boy, missing white women, etc...) it just flies in the face of empirical evidence to say that they aren't currently covering the Middle East or Wisconsin.  Turn on the f-ing TV and all you see is the Middle East or Wisconsin.  

    Not that they are necessarily doing a good job of covering those things, but they are covering them.  To claim otherwise in this instance is, well, not being reality based.  

    •  And you raise a great point about (8+ / 0-)

      assessing the quality of coverage, which is a far more complex task than just compiling counts of stories.  But I know it will be the subject of many thoughtful diaries here (already has been, in fact), and eventually some good scholarly work.

      Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

      by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:15:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  guaranteed to the top of the rec list with a (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      Bullet.  I can never understand the need to screech about how uninterested one is in something, much easier to ignore and move on but somehow these news outlets exert mind control over the viewers.  It seems people really are interested despite their protestations.

      "I've taken up sculpting recently. Landscapes mostly." ~ Yogi Bear

      by eXtina on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 03:59:19 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Ty, sanity. n/t (6+ / 0-)

    Thank you for taking us in when we were alone, adrift with no place to go, cold and afraid..... Thank You Congress Matters!!!

    by Dom9000 on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:17:15 PM PST

  •  Nicely done. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Marie, cardinal, sheddhead

    And re: Charlie Sheen, the suspense is terrible - I hope it lasts.

    No matter how cynical you become, it's never enough to keep up. -- Lily Tomlin

    by Colorado is the Shiznit on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:23:46 PM PST

  •  Of course (5+ / 0-)

    I think that you've done a fine job showing what the "mainstream news" is covering. I really think that the bigger issue is that Americans are not watching "mainstream news" (even defined to include Fox News) and instead are mostly watching TMZ, Inside Edition, Entertainment Tonight or whatever (I'm not up to speed there). If you define that as "news" ("journalism"?), then the question becomes what % of the news that Americans are consuming is "Charlie Sheen"?

    Then we get to have the linguistics argument about which side is driving the dialogue and what that means.

    PrairieStateBlue - Open Source Illinois Politics

    by ltsply2 on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:28:02 PM PST

    •  Good point. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ltsply2, Plubius

      The print, broadcast, and to a lesser extent cable news audiences have been shrinking over the last couple of decades, timed (not coincidently) with the proliferation of the entertainment programs you mention.

      One interesting tidbit -- albeit which doesn't directly address your point -- is that scholarly studies have shown that less attentive members of the public actually learn quite a bit about domestic and foreign affairs from the entertainment programs (Oprah, late-night comedy, etc.) that do occasionally mention current affairs.

      Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

      by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:31:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Thanks for the interesting counterpoint, cardinal (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, PsychoSavannah, Plubius, eXtina

    This is interesting information to have -- in and of itself -- with respect to the media coverage of the three "news" outlets.  

    As for Granny Doc's diary, I took it as more or less an expression of frustsration with the tendancy of the media and the general public to give such prominence (as opposed to, perhaps, air time) to things like Charlie Sheen when there are so many important issues that need to be dealt with (and that we need to be educating the public about with actual facts -- as opposed to opinion).

    "I'm bragging . . . I'm always in love . . ." - Always In Love, Wilco

    by TichMarie on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:28:10 PM PST

  •  I was out and about today, in various (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, Catte Nappe

    places that had "news" on the tv' matter where I went, Charlie Sheen's face was on the screen.

    While that may not add up in your statistical analysis, it makes an impression.

    My husband's biggest lament is there is no real news on tv after 7:00 p.m.  The networks are done and cable has gone to all opinion, all the time, with very few stories being covered.  Now that we don't have cable, it is much worse.  Sitting at a computer is not the same as watching something on tv as it is not easily shared with the family.

    Damn shame that, as so many are mis- or uninformed because of it.

    •  We all do that (0+ / 0-)

      The trick is to identify that our personal experience can be widely off the mark.  Check out Derreck Brown's, The System, on Youtube.  

      The System, a Channel 4 special in which Brown shared his "100 percent guaranteed" method for winning on the horses, was first shown on 1 February 2008. The show was based around the idea that a system could be developed to "guarantee a winner" of horse races. Cameras followed a member of the public, Khadisha, as Brown anonymously sent her correct predictions of five races in a row, before encouraging her to place as much money as she could on the sixth race.

      To demonstrate the system to the viewer, Brown tossed a coin showing ten heads in a row to prove it was not impossible, just highly improbable.

    •  That might be a what's called (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      cardinal, Catte Nappe, fizziks

      "that van is always on the corner" fallacy.

      In other words, you remark upon all the occasions that the suspicious blue van with the possible child molester inside is on the corner but forget about all the times it's not.

      A common law enforcement bogeyman.

      •  It's also closely (5+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Catte Nappe, fizziks, Indexer, eXtina, nickrud

        related to the Hostile Media Phenomenon, which is the consistent scholarly finding that people on opposite sides of the political spectrum will view the exact same news coverage as being biased against their side.  I'm as tough a media critic as anyone -- but I try to be aware of when my criticism might be unfairly grounded in my ideological baseline.

        Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

        by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 03:01:25 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Otherwise known as (2+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          cardinal, ebohlman

          "confirmation bias"?

          •  In some ways, yes. (1+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:

            However, there was actually some confusion among scholars when the HMP was first discovered because they interpreted it as contradicting confirmation bias.  After all, shouldn't we be more likely to remember aspects of the news coverage that square with our preconceptions, leading us then to remember the news as being favorable toward our side?  But apparently the preconception that the press is biased against our side is so strong that it overrides such considerations.

            Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

            by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 03:10:07 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Happens in other aspects, too (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              cardinal, ebohlman

              Part of my career has involved training or supervising staff and volunteers providing social services. I'm constantly reminding people we will tend to remember the one client this week who cussed us out and forget a dozen who said "thank you", or who just quietly accepted what we offered and went their way. Confirmation bias would swing the other way, causing us only to remember evidence that most people are good people, are trying their best, etc.

  •  Time frame (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, PsychoSavannah, OIL GUY, Plubius

    You raise an excellent point about looking at the facts of the matter. However, if the measurement period ended Sunday, it not only missed the CNN interview. It also missed yesterday's Today Show appearance. Then there's the 20/20 appearance scheduled for tonight, which has been heavily hyped with excerpts on ABC news programming for the past 24+ hours. These appearances are, of course, now spinning off into additional coverage, in many places, of the "best bits" of any of those interviews.  The time to measure the Sheen influence will presumably be the next report, ending this coming Sunday.

    •  Fair enough. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      It will be interesting to revisit the question in a week.  However, we can only go with what is currently in the record.

      Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

      by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:33:44 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Exactly. All that had happened (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      OIL GUY, Plubius

      with Sheen by Sunday was he was fired.

      •  Yes, you both raise (0+ / 0-)

        valid points.  If my finger wasn't hurting so much, I'd hop on Lexis Nexis and try to separate the coverage by day (including yesterday).

        I was home or in doctors' lobbies most of yesterday, so I pretty much watched news all day.  Though there was an upsurge in Sheen coverage, I would still be surprised if it overtook the other stories.  CNN had about 3 hours straight of nothing but Middle East and Wisconsin leading up to the interview.

        Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

        by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:40:07 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

      •  I Am Something Of A TV Geek (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        cardinal, Catte Nappe

        I follow a few blogs on TV and Sheen was making somewhere between $1.5 and $1.8 per episode. Most network shows do 20-24 episodes a year. Do the math.  That is $43 million, not including an residues for reruns.

        That is why when he was mad in the interview I saw he said that the network was attacking him. Taking away his livelihood.

        Wow, what a livelihood that was ....

        When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

        by webranding on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:42:18 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Exactly. My Republican (0+ / 0-)

    mom watches MSNBC for like 3-4 hours a day. I am 110% sure she has never seen Wall Street or his sitcom. Never. Now I will admit that "blue horseshoe loves Snacott Steel," but I've never watched Two and a Half Men, and I watch more TV then I care to admit.

    But my mother who watches news, well for news knows shit about Sheen, Lohan, some "hot white women" that went missing, and other folks she (I am with her) could care less about.

    IMHO the dumbing down of our society .....

    When opportunity calls pick up the phone and give it directions to your house.

    by webranding on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:33:49 PM PST

  •  Great diary (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, Catte Nappe, eXtina

    I just looked through some of your other diaries and am a now one of your "followers."  [creepy word if you ask me]

    I very much appreciate your skeptical and empirical and look forward to your future diaries.


    •  asdf (0+ / 0-)

      "skeptical and empirical approach..."

    •  Thanks. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm a social scientist by trade, and I try to bring those tools of inquiry to blogging.  Part of that, of course, is being open and gracious in receiving constructive criticism, so please slap me if I get defensive in the comments.

      Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

      by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 02:46:21 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  One would think that the reason (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    zett, eXtina

    Sheen is not specifically listed is because he is grouped in to the economic coverage. But I would not know because I dumped cable TV years ago. Now all the news I get has to make it through the click here test.  I don't seem to be clicking on Charlie Sheen at all. I am just not that into him.

  •  What did Charlie say??!! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    All these Charlie diaries don't even seem to talk about Charlie at all...

    Torture is illegal, immoral and violates every religious tradition.

    by Viceroy on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 03:38:01 PM PST

    •  I'm not even sure what (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      he said.  This is a media criticism diary, not a Charlie Sheen diary (at least, that's my story and I'm sticking to it).  :)

      Cardinal’s Law: As the terms “red” and “blue” increase in a given diary, the probability of logical fallacies and factual errors approaches 1.

      by cardinal on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 03:56:38 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  He said extremely insulting things (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      arielle, FiredUpInCA

      about Chuck Lorre, the producer of his sitcom.  Among those things were making fun of his Jewish birth name.

      Sheen has also in the past assaulted wives, girlfriends, and hookers while high on coke, screamed the N word at the top of his lungs in a hotel while punching the wall, said that he had a tiger's blood and the DNA of an Adonis, and is a major 9/11 CT peddler.

  •  Thank you for this. (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, fizziks, eXtina

    Making stuff up doesn't help anyone.

    So many stupid people in the world, and me with only two fists.

    by phenry on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 03:38:17 PM PST

  •  Nice work. You know what bugs me? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    cardinal, vcmvo2, FiredUpInCA

    All those commenters and recommenders in that other diary lamenting that Charlie Sheen gets too much coverage while most of them ignore dozens of fine diaries that talk about the real issues they say we should be talking about instead of Charlie Sheen. Just how dead IS irony?

    Don't tell me what you believe. Tell me what you do and I'll tell you what you believe.

    by Meteor Blades on Tue Mar 01, 2011 at 10:00:37 PM PST

  •  Not for nothing but (0+ / 0-)

    the fact that Charlie Sheen is getting any press coverage at all is laughable.  Whatever happened to cracking up in private?  Britney shaves her head and all breakdowns go public.  Seriously, this is not news.

    That elbow to the lip was the universe saying to you Mr. President, "OPEN YOUR MOUTH"

    by Chazcat on Wed Mar 02, 2011 at 01:40:52 PM PST

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