Narrow Minded Think Tanks

I have to thank NewsWatch Canada for the following articles (which I cut in their entirety from News Watches online journal) NewsWatch Canada undertakes independent research on news coverage in Canada’s media, with a focus on identifying what they identify as blindspots and double-standards. Most of the work being done by Simon Fraser University students in media-monitoring studies.

These articles from News Watches online journal, explain the main reason I have no use for the Fraser Institute. The Fraser Institute is a right wing think tank that newspapers like the National Post and The Sun group of newspapers, like to put forward as experts. My question is when does an expert lose his/her validity in light of a heavy political bias? The Fraser Institute is no more valid than the American Enterprise Institute. Lobby groups that hide behind academic titles like these, in the pursuit of honesty should drop such academic titles for more political ones.

I suggest the Fraser Institute be called – The Fraser Institute for Conservative Values and the American Enterprise Institute be Called The American Republican Enterprise Institute.

But I will let you make your own decisions on these. Enjoy the articles below…..

How the Fraser Institute distorts its news-monitoring studies
by Kathleen Cross
27 March 1997

In July 1996, two months after a narrow provincial election victory by the BC New Democrats, a Fraser Institute National Media Archive study declared that television coverage during the election campaign had been more negative to the provincial Liberals than to the New Democrats. The study purported to show that the Liberals were criticized more frequently than other parties, and that the NDP received more attention than the Liberals on economic issues.
It was a curious study because the actual statistics contained in the study (as opposed to the interpretation in Fraser Institute news releases and interviews) directly contradicted the claim that the media were biased against the Liberals. The study identified 12 per cent of all coverage by the three Vancouver television stations as being negative toward the Liberals, while only eight per cent of all coverage was negative toward the NDP. But what the Fraser Institute (FI) did not mention was that because the Liberals received so much more coverage in total than the NDP, the Liberals also received far more positive coverage (FI neglected to provide these figures in its study.) And regarding FI’s claim that the NDP received more economic coverage, what FI missed was that this coverage was more negative than that afforded the Liberals.
Using this study, FI went on to claim that media coverage was hostile to the Liberals and that this demonstrated “underlying political allegiances” of journalists to certain parties (read NDP). By selectively reporting its findings and by ignoring some of its own calculations, the Fraser Institute concluded that there was a left-wing bias in the Vancouver television news media.
This pattern of selectively reporting research results to fit a particular agenda or “spin” seems to be a persistent characteristic of the media-monitoring work done by the Fraser Institute’s National Media Archive (NMA). A review of NMA’s monthly newsletter On Balance, commissioned by Newswatch Canada, concluded that while purporting to promote “objectivity” and expose the lack of balance in journalism, NMA itself manifests a consistent pattern of innuendo, decontextualized results and selective interpretation.
Seventeen issues of On Balance (OB), published between January 1995 and July 1996, were reviewed in the Newswatch Canada study. A total of 20 of the 29 articles in these issues expressed concern about the left-wing bias of journalists and the effect this had on coverage of issues ranging from economics and politics to crime. Some findings of note are described here:
OB claimed that media overemphasis on negative economic news was one reason for low consumer confidence. When the unemployment rate went down, OB accused the CBC of negative reporting because the public broadcaster focused on the “28,000 young people who gave up looking” for jobs. Instead, said OB, the CBC should have featured increasing personal income, falling inflation, high corporate and bank profits, and growing GDP as examples of an improving economy. If the media had concentrated on the good news, it would have been enough to convince Canadians that Canada was indeed in good financial position, translating into increased consumer spending. What OB overlooked though were the realities of continuing high unemployment, and high levels of personal debt, and the consequences of these for the material conditions of Canadians’ lives, and therefore their level of spending.
While OB expressed concern about the type of economic coverage, it made no comment on the increasing use of economic language to frame other issues. For example, during the 1996 BC election, the Vancouver Sun published a summary of the main issues being debated during the campaign (19 April 1996), framing health and education issues primarily in terms of their fiscal implications and only secondly in terms of their social implications. The Sun saw the “challenge” for health as “finding ways to bring spending down” without compromising the system. The education challenge was to “cut spending” without damaging quality.
OB argued in a number of articles that Conservative governments received more negative coverage than Liberal governments, and that NDP governments were covered least critically. It concluded there was “gross partisanship” in the media, which had “crossed the boundary from news reporting to news advocacy”. However, OB reported only part of the story. For example, OB noted that Alberta’s spending cuts under Ralph Klein received more negative coverage than Bob Rae’s “ballooning deficit” in Ontario. But Alberta received twice as much coverage overall, indicating that it likely also received more positive coverage than Ontario’s government. OB took issue with the media’s use of the word “victims” (such as bleeding patients in emergency wards) to show the effects of budget cuts while the media showed no “victims” of Bob Rae’s increasing deficit, except “business men and middle class tax protesters, hardly the images to invoke sympathy.”
OB alleged repeatedly that public broadcasting was less balanced than private broadcasting. It argued in a number of articles that the CBC gave one-sided and overly negative coverage to economic issues, government budgets, globalization, and elections. However, OB employed a double standard when discussing the CBC. If the CBC demonstrated “more bias” than the private sector on a particular item, OB questioned the value of the public broadcaster. However, when CBC showed more balance than private broadcasters, OB neither indicated possible value in a public broadcaster, nor questioned the value of the private broadcaster. And although OB explicitly criticized a CBC story for its use of “innuendo, inconsistent media practices and ambush journalism,” OB was relatively silent on the same tactics when employed by private sector media.
OB rarely considered conditions other than journalists’ own alleged partisanship that might affect media coverage. There is an extensive body of literature spanning 50 years that has examined the effect of news values, news-gathering practices, advertising imperatives and news media ownership, on the content of news stories; however, these possibilities were not raised by the NMA. Even when OB criticized the media’s attention to sensationalism, it made no comments on the effect that market logic and economic pressures may have in employing these attention-grabbing practices, or indeed how these kinds of stories made for “good copy.”
To be sure, there are problems with content analysis, since it relies in part on subjective categories of statements and stories. Nonetheless, if applied consistently without ignoring some results while highlighting others, it can be a useful form of media analysis. Our study indicates that while OB claims to use content analysis in an objective manner, it applies content analysis in such a way as to render its conclusions suspect.
The bias found in the National Media Archive’s work can be linked to the objectives of the Fraser Institute (FI) itself. The NMA appears to be constrained in its ability to offer objective media monitoring by FI’s own mandate to influence the news. In a recently leaked internal planning document, “Toward a new millennium: A five year plan of the Fraser Institute,” FI discussed its goal to increase media “penetration” of its material and spokespeople through various public relations exercises, including the provision of “special treatment” to those journalists who express interest in FI material. These objectives may not seem unusual for a lobby group (although they could be considered objectionable), but they clearly conflict with the “objective” analysis of media coverage NMA says it provides. Indeed, based on Newswatch Canada’s review of On Balance, it is hard to distinguish NMA’s goal of objective media analysis from the Fraser Institute’s goal of influencing media coverage.
The work of the National Media Archive does have some merit. It provides public and academic access to the only archive of television news in western Canada, which is a valuable research resource. And the NMA’s actual numbers are often reliable; indeed we have used them to critique the NMA’s own conclusions. As well, some of the NMA’s studies, especially in areas of crime reporting, are useful and insightful.
It is precisely because of its importance, though, that the work of the NMA needs to be subjected to critical scrutiny. Canadians need the kind of media monitoring that the National Media Archive is undertaking. We need to identify blindspots in the news and ask why some stories and points of view are covered and others are not. However, given the limitations in the National Media Archive’s work uncovered by Newswatch Canada, it is clear that NMA and the Fraser Institute need to be monitored as carefully as Canada’s mainstream news media.
(Kathleen Cross is a doctoral student in the School of Communication at Simon Fraser University)

Fraser Institute continues its distorting ways
by Donald Gutstein

Last August, NewsWatch Canada explained how the Fraser institute slanted its news-monitoring studies (Kathleen Cross, NewsWatch Monitor, Vol. 1. No. 1, Summer, 1997). It seems that little has changed with the news media’s think-tank of choice.
The January, 1998 issue of ‘On Balance,’ the Fraser Institute’s media-monitoring operation, claims that “Liberals dominate national TV news, Reform presence declines.”
The study was a tally of “soundbites” – an MP speaking some words on camera would be one soundbite — on national television news during the 60 days before the start of the spring federal election on June 2, 1997 (pre-election period), and during the 60 days after the House resumed sitting. (The phrase ‘resume sitting’ is actually incorrect. An election creates a new Parliament, which ‘commences sitting.’) On Balance’s main finding was that Liberal MP soundbites accounted for 54 per cent of CBC’s and 49 per cent of CTV’s MP soundbites in the pre-election period. After the election, Liberal MP soundbites increased to 61 per cent of CBC and 60 per cent of CTV soundbites.
“The most obvious result” of the election, says On Balance, “was that the Reform Party replaced the Bloc Quebecois as Official Opposition. Yet on CBC, Reform MPs’ soundbites have actually decreased.” On Balance notes that Reform MP soundbites on CBC went down by 3.4 percentage points while the party increased its representation by ten seats.
By using percentage points rather than simple percentages, On Balance hides more than it reveals.
Reform soundbites actually decreased by 15 per cent. More interesting are the results of other parties, which were buried in the On Balance report. NDP soundbites on CBC went down by 31.9 per cent, and Bloc Quebecois soundbites decreased by 34.1 per cent. Only the Tories bucked the trend in opposition parties: its soundbites increased by 26.1 per cent.
Let’s back way from these results for a moment. From a researcher’s point of view, the study design is suspect. On Balance measured only the number of soundbites. But what about the length of the soundbite? What about its placement in the story? If Preston Manning gets 30 seconds and Alexa McDonough gets five seconds, they are recorded as one soundbite each. And what about the framing? How are the politicians portrayed? Is the camera angle favourable or harsh? How is the scene lit? What do the anchor or reporter say about the MP? Are comments positive or negative? These questions are just as important as the mere number of soundbites, yet they are excluded from the report.
And what’s the big deal anyway? On Balance’s results, as incomplete and misleading as they are, tell us something most people probably know. At the end of a government’s mandate, voters want to know about the alternatives, so all parties are accessed. But once an election campaign is over and a new government elected, voters want to know about the government’s plans. So it’s not surprising that most parties’ soundbites went down while the Liberals went up. The opposition doesn’t become important again until the government introduces budgets and legislation and opposition parties can do their job and oppose.
On Balance did come up with one startling finding but this was not mentioned until the end of the report: The Bloc Quebecois was completely shut out on CTV in the two-month period following the start of the new session of Parliament — not one soundbite for the Bloc. Even though all opposition leaders had a lot to say about the Liberal throne speech, Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe was the only one not quoted on CTV. This pattern continued over the two-month period. It is a shocking indictment of Canada’s private network, yet the Fraser Institute preferred to focus on the alleged sins of the public network.
In summary, On Balance was selective in what it chose to emphasize. A headline that more accurately reflected the On Balance findings would have gone something like this: “NDP and Bloc presence plummets, Reform slips, as Liberals rise and Tories soar.”


6 thoughts on “Narrow Minded Think Tanks

  1. Bill, without agreeing or disagreeing with your analysis of the output from the Fraser Institute, I can’t help but notice the blind spot you have vis-a-vis conservative versus liberal “think tanks”.

    To be fair you must also rant against the twisted views and analyzes of other politically bent offices – but that honest POV is missing from your piece.

    So in this case your post is overly broad (ie gratuitously including the AEI without providing a confirming example of the woe you decry).

    In truth, Bill, in my view you are much closer to fulfilling the role of a blind man describing an elephant in this post. To be fair you’ve got to consider that even though “we” speak a common language, many, many words shared by liberals and conservatives have much different meanings to the separate camps. This, alone, is a major cause for our mutual disconnect.

    The Fraser folk may indeed have ‘blown’ their reports. But by being overly broad, you have too. In my view. But can we remain friends?


  2. 49erdweet – Yes to be fair I will need to include more on the AEI I was being a bit general I assumed that the AEI was known for it’s republic sentiments (so I really can’t fault them for being intelectually dishonest, they are upfront about their political sentiments) I will have to include more on them in another post. Also I know there are a few Liberal think tanks out there equally myopic. I will search them out just to be balanced.
    This was more a rant than a full analysis.

    Good Point.

    My basic point was if you have a particular bent it should be up there in plain view.

    John C. Goodman for the National Center for Policy Analysis NCPA, has a good definition of what a think tank is. In his definition he notes that “The goal [of a think tank] may or may not be to solve an important social problem.”

    The problem is that some think tanks tend to be so politically biassed that if the solution does not fit their political paradigm then it is thrown out, and this can lead to very dodgy research results as the two articles point out, in reference to the Fraser Institute.

  3. 🙂 If you wish to read all of the evidence and facts go to and look for the newly published “Steven Truscott and the Murder of 12-Year Old Lynne Harper”

  4. Sam

    Unfortunately you’re off topic you posted on the Frazer Inst rant and you talked on the rant on Truscott. I suspect that the book might be worth reading not just because I tend to agree with some of the online content I have read but because it seems more factual than opiinion. However If you are going to promote a Book or a product on the blog even in a comment send me a note first.

    Bill Arends

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