I did realize, though, that the headline itself could be positive while the person referenced in the headline could be perceived negatively and vice versa. So, while â€œObama launches Another Attack in Defense of His Wifeâ€ might be perceived as a negative headline, the headline might also be perceived as positive about Obama, since he was defending his wife. Therefore I took the same 85 headlines and gave them to a different set of raters asking them to rate the titles as negative, positive, or neutral towards the redacted information, whether that was a person, place, or thing.
These raters also were given the headlines after a discussion of connotation and denotation. These raters were also from two composition classes, but they were from classes at a private university in Houston. The students were mostly from low socioeconomic backgrounds and were fairly diverse; seven of the raters were black, three were non-native speakers, five were Hispanic, and five were white. These raters received the headlines in the same semester as the other students, but after the elections were over. Again they were told that simply completing the ratings would complete their credit, with no points being taken from or added to for a particular viewpoint.
These twenty raters looked at the headlines in terms of the redacted names. So â€œU Accuses V of Same Old Campaign Tacticsâ€ would be given a positive, minus, or neutral rating for U and another rating for V. In that case, U- who was Obama- received 11 positives, 7 negatives, 1 neutral, with one person not marking. V- or McCain, on the other hand, received 5 positive, 13 negatives, and 2 people abstaining.
When both of the candidates were named in the headlines without differentiation, the rating average was a positive 6, a negative 4.5, and a neutral 8.5. I was surprised, since I would have expected that a political headline would be negative. This could be because I was experiencing political burnout which they did not since they werenâ€™t highly political.
When the raters looked at the headlines which referred to McCain, the rating averages were 7.4 positive, 6.3 negative, and 5.3 neutral. This was for a total of 33 headlines which named McCain separately from Obama.
When the raters looked at the headlines referring to Obama, the rating averages were 7.1 positive, 6.1 negative, and 5.7 neutral.
What this means is that according to the twenty raters who were rating the references to redacted names, Obamaâ€™s numbers were slightly less positive and also slightly less negative when compared to McCainâ€™s. Headlines which referred to Obama were found to be more neutral than those referring to McCain.
The differentiation is small. This could be partially because of the number of raters.
Obama wins the FoxNews.com headline race in both number of headlines and number of pictures. When rating were given relative to the person, however, MCainâ€™s headlines were found to be more favorable by .2. They were also found to be more negative by .2, which would counteract the positive bias.
This paper was presented at the national conference of Popular Culture on 8 April 2009.