In the three articles in question, Uscinski’s “The Timing of Presidential Cinema” and “Too Close to Call? Uncertainty and Bias in Election-Night Reporting”, and Uscinski and Goren’s “What’s in a Name? Coverage of Senator Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic Primary”, the primary theme is the nexus between politics and media coverage, although as analyzed through more quantitative methods, such as duration analysis and regression analysis. Hence, when focusing on these texts from the perspective of a content analysis, what is crucial is whether such an approach satisfies the criteria of providing an accurate account of the issues in question in each article.
In the case of “The Timing of Presidential Cinema”, therefore, the content analysis influences an interpretation whereby films are categorized according to whether they incorporate a character holding Presidential office, and how the timing of release matches up to the film’s contemporary social, political and economic context. The article stresses findings, such as that “more films with presidents are released during Democratic administrations” (Uscinski, 688) and that “more films with presidents are released during first rather than second terms.” (Uscinski, 688) By taking a quantitative approach, which content analysis emphasizes, perhaps what is lacking in such a methodology is how the Presidents themselves are portrayed in these films. This attempt is basically one in which political science is truly desired to be made into a science, relying upon radically quantitative methodology. However, perhaps this misses the very point of politics: if we think of politics through concepts such as society and ideology, can these concepts be quantified? How could one quantify the content of an ideological message or a foreign policy? The attempt to make political science a science in the quantitative sense has the danger of omitting the very content of the political message itself, one which seems to be wholly qualitative in character.
This critique is relevant to the two remaining articles that employ this same methodology. Hence, the basic question is “Was Hillary Clinton treated differently in the media because of her gender?” (Uscinski & Goren, 1) by using direct references to the media. However, such an approach overlooks the dimension of what constitutes gender and thus the purely qualitative notion of gender: any glance at feminist theories of political science and IR will argue a point that gender is precisely variable and heterogeneous and that a particular society may promote particular gender roles. How content analysis may actually understand how gender functions in a society, other than merely counting the times it is mentioned, which is a reliance upon a quantitative approach, seems to be beyond the scope of this methodology and thus the real issue of what gender means to society is overlooked.
Considering the subject matter of the article “Too Close to Call? Uncertainty and Bias in Election-Night Reporting”, i.e., when do media outlets release election results, the article seems to be more apt to the quantitative horizon of content analysis. Namely, correlating when election projections are released by media sources and how this may then influence voters appears to be a legitimate use of this method, in so far as a one-to-one correspondence may be clearly mapped. At the same time, however, an investigation into bias in the media would once again require an account of the power relations and ideologies that drive the media, an account that seems to be beyond the possibilities of content analysis.
Hence, all three articles demonstrate an attempt to make political science a rigorous science. However, the danger appears in overlooking the non-quantifiable variables of politics in general. To explain ideologies and concepts such as gender we have to understand how these concepts function in relation to the society that employs them and how their meanings change, and perhaps these phenomena are simply too abstract for content analysis.
Uscinski, Joseph E. “The Timing of Presidential Cinema”, Social Science Quarterly,
Vol. 90, No. 3, September 2009. pp. 687-702.
Uscinski, Joseph E. “Too Close to Call? Uncertainty and Bias in Election-Night
Reporting”, Social Science Quarterly, Vol. 88, No. 1, March 2007. pp. 51-67.
Uscinski, Joseph E. and Goren, Lilly J. “What’s in a Name? Coverage of Senator
Hillary Clinton during the 2008 Democratic Primary”, Political Research
Quarterly, XX(X), 2010. pp. 1-14.