Framing The SOTU: Cable Networks Vs. Big Three
January 29, 2014

Here's an interesting exercise in media criticism. Compare cable news websites with the more mainstream network sites like NBC, CBS and ABC, and see who more closely resembles real news.

That top image is from CBS News. It's got a nice image, quotes one of the lines released ahead of the actual speech, and has a lovely long image to set things off. Seems to be pretty straightforward.

Here's Fox News, your benchmark for bias. Please do click through to the larger image in order to fully appreciate the entire page, which has links underneath the main story to a "factcheck" and more.

fox-news-act-on-my-own

This is CNN.com at 7:47 PM, Pacific time. The headline speaks for itself, I think. Poor us, suffering at the hands of nasty Dems.

cnn-features-gop

This is CNN.com at 7:48 PM, Pacific time. Just one minute later, they're up with a focus on Obama again and in Fox lite fashion, making sure we know he's being mean to Congress. Or something.

cnn-with-or-without

Here's MSNBC's page:

screenshot_2014-01-28_23.46.57

ABC News decided to balance their opinion with link bait on the right rail:

abc-news

NBC News has a pretty neutral headline, with quotes from the speech itself and links to analysis, and so on.

nbc-news

This exercise started when my spouse sent me a set of eight screenshots of these sites taken around the same time. I was curious to see whether there was a significant difference between how cable news promotes and frames a speech like this and how the Big 3 do it.

There is a difference, but less of one than I expected. Each site chose a key quote from the speech, but some of the mainstream outlets couldn't resist dropping a bit of bait.

On ABC, we have the sidebar articles which either mention the term "Socialist Dictator" in relation to the President, or suggest he's full of rhetoric but might not have the reality right.

CBS's juxtaposition of "ladders of opportunity" and "chipping away at Obamacare" was interesting, but more or less benign.

NBC News probably had the most objective framing, with chosen quotes about gun control, immigration reform, and the federal contractors' wage hike. Their front page photo might be read as bias, since it was of one of the many standing ovations the President received.

The cable outlets, on the other hand, make no bones about their bias. There's predictable bias from MSNBC and Fox News, but CNN is actually the worst of the three, in my opinion.

What do you see?

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