Making News: The Media’s Anti-Clinton Bias

Lanny Davis Former Special Counsel to President Bill Clinton
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I have written before about the media’s anti-Clinton and pro-Sanders bias in reporting poll results in the Democratic presidential nomination contest. If you need any further evidence, take a look at the disparate media treatment when, in the last several days, Hillary Clinton’s poll results have been more positive, both nationally and in the early caucus and primary states.

When CNN/ORC reported in its Sept. 10 survey that Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) was polling within 10 points of Clinton nationally among Democrats — 27 percent to Clinton’s 37 percent — those results were major stories in most of the mainstream media and breathlessly repeated on the cable morning, afternoon and evening shows.

Then on Sept. 21, less than two weeks later, CNN/ORC reported that Clinton’s lead had nearly doubled — the former secretary of State now had an 18-point lead, with 42 percent to Sanders’s 24 percent.

Is anyone surprised that the Sept. 21 results received far less coverage than the Sept. 10 results?

This week, one of the most anti-Clinton daily cable morning shows ignored this CNN/ORC poll while citing another, in which Clinton was in the lead by just 8 points. One panelist said perception of the email issue is “devouring her candidacy.” (Devouring???)

And what about Iowa? Remember when The Des Moines Register at the end of August reported that Sanders had moved to within 7 points of Clinton there, 37 percent to 30 percent? This was a leading national news story, used over and over again as evidence of the Sanders “surge” and Clinton’s troubles. Then came the Quinnipiac poll released on Sept. 10 that reported a statistical dead heat in the state, with Clinton at 40 percent and Sanders at 41 percent.

Yet on Sept. 22, the respected Public Policy Polling organization reported Clinton ahead among Democrats in Iowa by 21 points (43 percent to 22 percent), based on a relatively large sample of 494 registered Democrats (with a margin of error of plus/minus margin 4.4 percent). Vice President Biden, who still has yet to announce whether he’ll make a bid in 2016, remained in third place, at 17 percent. He trails Clinton by 26 points, and Sanders by 5.

In New Hampshire, a WMUR (NH)/CNN poll completed on July 30 garnered substantial media coverage when it showed that Sanders now held the lead there over Clinton, 42 percent to 36 percent. The NBC/Marist poll for September showed the Vermont senator ahead by 9 points, 41 percent to 32 percent. Media coverage of Sanders “surging” and Clinton sagging was amplified even more.

Yet a more recent Sept.15 poll conducted by Boston’s WBUR showed Clinton making relative progress: she and Sanders were now back to a statistical dead heat, 35 percent to 31 percent (i.e., within the margin of error).

In South Carolina, the former first lady remains substantially ahead of both Sanders and Biden, leading 34 points over Sanders in the RealClearPolitics rolling average, with Biden in second place, 27 points behind Clinton.

In Florida, the most recent PPP poll, completed Sept. 13, shows Clinton increasing her lead, with 55 percent to 18 percent and 17 percent, respectively, over Sanders and Biden.

CNN’s Sept. 21 poll also shows Clinton with healthy leads nationally among Democratic women, older voters — who tend to turn out in higher percentages than younger voters — and, significantly, among non-white Democrats. Again, virtual silence in the media.

So, you have read all the data, cited above, regarding the most recent polls. Here’s my request about what you just read: Ignore it.

All polling data at this stage means little or nothing when it comes to predicting 2016. Polls are snapshots of a moving picture. The margins of error often can make conclusions dangerous as to who is actually ahead or behind. And primaries and caucuses that have low turnouts can distort most polls as a predictor of anything, especially so many months before the election.

So what is my point?

It’s quite simple: The media’s bias toward emphasizing polling data that appears to be bad news for Clinton and good news for Sanders is so clear, so obvious, that it is both undeniable and, one would think, embarrassing to legitimate news organizations.

Why are they not embarrassed?

Lanny Davis is a weekly columnist for The Hill newspaper, writing under the name, “Purple Nation.” This column appears first and weekly in The Hill and the Hill.com.