Thursday, February 9, 2012

Calling Tim Groseclose

Scott Johnson at Power Line has a column on Tim Groseclose and his book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Mr. Groseclose conducts a study of media bias with a statistical rigor that is unusual in the social sciences.

Mr. Johnson’s column got me thinking about another fertile area for study by our social scientists. It is the field of negative advertising.

Complaining about negative ads has become a national pastime, and as our election season heats up, we are going to see an abundance of these spots. Now might be a good time to do a little in-depth study.

What needs to be studied? It’s the variation in tone. There are two distinctly different styles of negative advertisement: One informs us of the actions of the targeted individual. The other characterizes the intent of the individual.

Here is a post from the 2010 election cycle that compares the two styles. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know which style is more effective and also which political party tends to rely on a particular style?

My sense is that the style differences are being downplayed so that we can all take refuge in deploring the negativity. Even so, the style differences remain emotionally significant.

As a reference, keep in mind how the distinction between legal and illegal immigration tends to be obscured in journalism. Reporters conflate both classes of people together as “immigrants” even though the two groups are vastly different in outlook and life experience. (Oftentimes - dare I mention - a journalistic agenda is advanced with the technique.)

Is it possible that while “negative advertising” is being employed in disparate fashion, the two styles are being intentionally lumped together for political purpose?

The conflating of both styles of advertising can obscure a specific journalistic agenda. It can also allow apologists to proclaim, “Everybody does it.”

Is there something going on here?

Inquiring minds want to know.

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