While we’re talking about MSNBC, at The New Republic, Obama supporter Isaac Chotiner argues that not only is MSNBC biased toward his candidate, but that that bias has actually harmed Obama:
…by mocking Clinton’s decision to stay in the race, Olbermann has only bolstered her argument that “the boys” are trying to push her out. And finally, on a number of primary nights, but most notably in Pennsylvania and Ohio/Texas, MSNBC has become so excited by early exit polls that it has raised expectations that Obama ultimately could not live up to.
That seems a stretch to me. In today’s model of campaigning, candidates are going to work the refs and argue bias whether it exists or not; they will spin and try to set expectations to their advantage regardless what any cable network does. (And MSNBC’s so-called “excitement” about the exit polls hardly exists in a vacuum. Let’s not overestimate the size of the channel’s audience; if only MSNBC were setting expectations, the effect would be negligable.)
Chotiner’s stronger argument is that MSNBC’s bias hurts its viewers:
Dangerously, too, MSNBC’s coverage can lead to a perverse sort of cognitive dissonance in viewers like, well, me. Throughout the primary process, I often found myself much more bullish on the Illinois Senator’s chances after watching MSNBC than I had any reason to be. After Obama’s Iowa victory, for instance, I remember hearing Matthews’ description of a giant “wave” of Obamamania sweeping across the nation; surely, the race was over. Likewise, during the month of February, when Obama won eleven straight primaries, I recall watching the network and occasionally convincing myself that Clinton was certain to drop out before Texas and Ohio because her chances had become so diminished. The problem here is that when supposedly “straight” news anchors phrase questions in leading ways, and report one campaign’s spin as if it were fact, it distorts what is actually going on in the campaign–even for those of us who make a living obsessing over and writing about politics.
Of course, that assumes you watch cable news to get, like, facts about, like, reality. How quaint!