A Nov. 4 CNN blog post cited an ABC News/Washington Post poll that indicated that Herman Cain and Mitt Romney remained tied in the race for the Republican nomination. What is interesting is that all of the numbers quoted by the article were indicated by a specific percentage – except what may have been the most important one. The article stated, “The survey indicates that seven in 10 Republicans say reports of allegations that Cain made unwanted advances towards two employees when he was the head of the National Restaurant Association in the late 1990′s do not matter when it comes to choosing a candidate for the nomination.” Writing the statistic as “70% don’t care” would have made it much more apparent that the majority [of respondents] did not seem to care, and I would have wondered why this has become such a huge story.
A Nov. 6 CNN article focused on statements made about Cain rather than by Cain. They quoted competitors such as Newt Gingrich and Jon Huntsman, U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour and others. The article lacked substance or new information.
Fox News published an article about Cain’s campaign reminding journalists about the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. The interesting part about this article is that it led with the Cain’s campaign pointing to the code’s “limiting the use of anonymous sources and evaluating their truthfulness and motives before allowing their use,” then followed with paragraphs about the allegations (which happen to be from anonymous sources) and their effect on Cain’s campaign.
The Wall Street Journal instead chose to focus on statements by Ron Paul, who described the accusations as “distractions” during an appearance on Fox News Sunday and urged voters to pay attention to the real issues.
From my examination of the coverage of this controversy, I have concluded that Fox News and CNN may be more similar than the average American news consumer may realize. There seems to be an idea that CNN leans towards the left and Fox News leans towards the right. I would argue that both news networks lean towards over-sensationalism. It appears that the most important aspect in news coverage by these corporations is making the story a big deal. They seem to ignore aspects of stories that do not perpetuate the overarching story, instead choosing to focus on and repeat aspects that keep the Cain controversy in the headlines.
The Wall Street Journal coverage appeared to take a much more direct approach. Instead of focusing on opinion and analysis, the Journal seems to focus more directly, and intentionally, on the quotes and statements of the people involved in the issue. Overall, The Wall Street Journal coverage appear to be significantly shorter than coverage from Fox News and CNN because the former avoids the sensationalism and opinion propagated by the latter. I have come to the conclusion that Fox News and CNN use the term “news” loosely when describing their intentions. In the future, I will intentionally look for news outlets like The Wall Street Journal that allow the story to speak for itself, rather than drawing conclusions for the reader.
Aaron Nickerson, a student at Colorado Christian University, examined a week’s worth of news coverage from November 2011 from CNN, Fox News and The Wall Street Journal, regarding the sexual harassment allegations against then-GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain. Part of his analysis is above. He wrote this for our News21 course on “Persuasion and News in the 21st Century.”