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Report on media bias that found a John McCain slant sparks fierce debate

July 29, 2008 |  4:43 pm

A war of words over media bias in the presidential race has become, at least at the moment, at least as fierce as the debate between the candidates themselves.

An "On the Media" column Sunday in the L.A. Times on a new study concluding that, since early June, Barack Obama has drawn tougher network television coverage than John McCain, met with a predictable response -- applause from the left and skepticism from the right.

Robert Lichter, director of the Center for Media and Politics, has been scrambling from interview to interview to explain and defend his research, which showed that the three broadcast networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- and the Fox Special Report made more negative statements about Obama than about McCain from June 8 through July 21.

Bill O’Reilly was among many who wanted to talk to Lichter about his research. And the Fox News Channel host did not seem embarrassed about a change in his attitude toward the media analyst.

In the past, O'Reilly embraced Lichter's research showing a liberal bias by network news programs. He welcomed Lichter as a truth-teller, for instance, when the communications professor at Virginia's George Mason University -- using the same methodology -- said Democrats were getting more favorable network TV coverage than Republicans in the walk-up to the 2006 midterm election.

But Monday, after The Times reported Lichter’s latest findings and the apparent tilt against Obama, O’Reilly told his radio listeners the research was “misleading” and an “enormous mistake.”

O’Reilly’s complaint was that Lichter coded statements as negative that were, he asserted, neutral -- such as merely repeating poll results.

The irony of defending himself on the O'Reilly show, where he has previously been a hero, did not seem lost on Lichter. “I think the answer to that is you can take all my studies or none of my studies,” Lichter told O’Reilly.

Commentators on the left also jumped into the fray.

Launching a counterattack against claims that the media is pro-Obama, the liberal watchdog group Media Matters on Tuesday released a new ad -- to air in New York and Washington, where many big media organizations are based -- that features on-air paeans to McCain to make its case that he is the true media darling.

-- James Rainey

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