A faction of conservatives are angry that Ted Cruz's recently-ended sort-of-filibuster hasn't attracted as much media attention as, say, Texas State Senator Wendy Davis' June effort. The data suggests otherwise.
At the Washington Examiner, Tim Carney offers an example of the critique.
Davis's filibuster was no more likely than Cruz's to change the law. Davis's filibuster was just as self-promotional as Cruz's, and just as directed at a bid for higher office. And Davis's filibuster was in defense of something most people dislike: aborting viable and nearly-viable babies; while Cruz's filibuster was in opposition to a law most people dislike: Obamacare.
The difference? I assume it's this: The media generally supports legalized abortion while the media generally like Obamacare.
Another offering, from Hot Air: "It’s not just the media hypocrisy, which is predictable, that grates. It’s that, after days of internecine sniping at each other over Cruz’s strategy, both RINOs and true conservatives can at last unite in common grievance at the unfairness. Three cheers for the media!"
Politico's Dylan Byers looked at the accusations, citing tweets from conservatives. (Here are some in the same vein.) Byers' assessment: "[P]art of the disparity in coverage is due to the fact that the mainstream media, generally speaking, don't admire Cruz the way they admired Davis — or rather, they admire him only insofar as he makes for tragicomic theater, whereas they admired her on the merits."
What Byers, a media critic, didn't do is actually test the veracity of the claims.
We went to Nexis, a news media database, to determine how much media attention each of four filibuster and sortabusters got since 2010. The four:
- Sen. Bernie Sanders, December 2010. Sanders, like Cruz, wasn't filibustering but instead hoping to make a statement about proposed tax legislation. Length: 8 hours
- Sen. Rand Paul, March 2013. Paul was filibustering the nomination of John Brennan to lead the CIA. Length: 13 hours
- Texas Sen. Wendy Davis, June 2013. Davis was hoping to block passage of an anti-abortion bill during a special session. Length: 11 hours
- Sen. Ted Cruz, September 2013. Cruz's speech was aimed at criticizing Obamacare. Length: 21 hours
We looked at two time periods surrounding each filibuster. First, we looked at stories that mentioned the elected official and the word "filibuster" for the day of the speech and the day following. Then, we looked at total mentions of the person for the week ending with the day after the speech. We subtracted the number of filibuster-related mentions to get a sense for how much press coverage the person got in general.
That gave us this.
As you can see, Cruz's speech was mentioned in the press 422 times on Tuesday and Wednesday, to Davis' 471 during the comparable period. But there are two other reasons to think that Cruz's numbers are undercounted. First, his wasn't a filibuster, so news organizations being sticklers about verbiage wouldn't show in the Nexis results. Second, Cruz's speech just ended. By midnight, it's almost certain that the number of times he's been mentioned in the media will increase significantly.
Cruz's speech also didn't take place form a position of anonymity. For the past week, as he's toyed with the idea of blocking Obamacare, he's been in the media constantly, dwarfing the number of press mentions over the same time period as any of the other three elected officials. He's been mentioned in the press for non-filibuster related stories four times as often as Sanders was mentioned during the run-up to his speech. Ted Cruz has been coveredly thoroughly and frequently by the press — not always complimentarily, but incessantly.
Our colleagues at The Atlantic described reasons for the difference in tone between Cruz and Davis, which is a different critique. Contrary to Carney's dismissals, Davis' opposition really did kill the bill — for the time being. And her anonymity helped push the media attention. She was an unknown actor with a strong personal story, exactly the sort of thing the media loves.
And yet Cruz at least matched her in the first 48 hours of coverage, likely surpassing her. Three cheers for the media!