Saturday, September 15, 2007

Media Bias

I am a regular reader of Eric Alterman’s blog “Altercation,” and I generally agree with what I read there, except that he is a virulent Yankee hater, and I am a life-long Yankee fan. I do not begrudge anyone their violent animosities, but I guess I would wish he leave the Yankee-hating for the sports call-in shows where it belongs , and stick in his blog to politics and beating up on Bush. Anyway, Alterman is best known as a media critic and he has frequently made the point that the Yankees regularly get more coverage in New York City sports pages. With the obliviousness to the plight of the underdog which is a concomitant of being a Yankee fan, I was skeptical of these claims, and decided that a little quantified and empirical research might decide the matter.

Well, after looking into it, I have concluded that Alterman is indeed correct, and that the Mets have been systematically underreported (or the Yankees overreported), in the paper of record, the New York Times.

The brave new world of Proquest searches lets a researcher quickly determine the frequency of an appearance of a key word or phrase over time. The basic search I simple, between April 1962 (when the Mets played their first game), and December 2003 (when the database ends) how many articles in the New York Times contained the words of the two teams.

New York Times Articles, April 1962-December 2003
New York Yankees:47,051
New York Mets:33,391

This would seem to be conclusive, 30% more articles on the Yankees , or about, on the average, about 340 extra articles per year on the Bronx publicity hounds.

I decided to test Mets/Yankee coverage in another way, by looking at the articles on Casey Stengel, who had similar roles as a very visible and popular manager for both clubs. He was manager of the Mets from 1962-1965, and manager of the Yankees from 1949-1960. If we divide his Yankee tenure in segments of equal length to his time with the Mets, the Times once again shows a decided Yankee bias.

New York Times Articles about Casey Stengel


All that one can say for the New York Times is that the Mets/Yankees differential is not as great as that for some other teams and other papers. Doing Proquest searches available to me on other newspapers in two team towns, one finds that the Chicago Tribune, from 1903 to 2003, rather surprisingly, had twice as many articles on the White Sox than the much more popular newsworthy (I thought) Cubs; 39,510 to 17,494, and (less surprisingly) that the Boston Globe from 1903 to 1953 had ten times as many articles about the Red Sox as on the hapless Boston Braves.

The Yankees/Mets disparity is also less pronounced than frequency of reporting of the Times of the three team city that existed from 1903 to 1957.

New York Times, 1903-1957

New York Giants:53,532
New York Highlanders/Yankees: 38,245
Brooklyn Dodgers: 5,083

The Times evidently felt reporting on the Dodgers were the responsibility of the Brooklyn papers, and it is a sign I suppose that a “pre-1898 consolidation” mentality prevailed at the Times for many decades.

Those high figures for the Giants looked problematic, especially since after 1925 there was a football team of the same name, and a team name with a common word like “giants” would likely produce more "false positives" in a Proquest search than “Yankees” or “Dodgers.” However the Giants were, certainly for most of the John McGraw years from 1903 to 1934 the pre-eminent baseball team in the city. And this continued even after the Yankees got their own stadium and achieved baseball eminence.

New York Times 1923-1957

Polo Grounds: 20,367
Yankee Stadium: 14,908
Ebbets Field: 12,551

Indeed, even in that ne plus ultra year of 1927 articles in the Times about the Giants outnumbered those on the Yankees 1,410 to 1,036.

There is some evidence that some of this disparity was changing by the 1950s, if one looks at articles about “Willie, Mickey, and the Duke” with the Dodger, somewhat surprisingly, in the lead

New York Times 1951–1957

Duke Snider : 1,338
Mickey Mantle: 1,217
Willie Mays: 1,024

I could go on with more elaborate and more sophisticated searches, and probably waste more time. If someone out there wants to waste time disputing or refining these hasty conclusions, they are welcome.

I am the dogged empirical researcher here, grinding out numbers, and leaving the sophisticated analysis to others—I report, you decide—but all I can is what goes around comes around, and I am sure that the Yankee fans among media analysts of the day were saying something like, “how many goddamn home runs does Babe Ruth need to hit until the Times gives the Yanks a fair shake?”

1 comment:

David said...

Wow Peter. What an idea injecting data into such an emotional controversy. Perhaps one could argue that the Yankees need to get more publicity to make up for all the lean years; especially if you figure that the Mets are the heirs (as it were) to the Giants and Dodgers combined.

Dave Birnbaum