USF Sarah Palin study dissected (and misunderstood) by Bill O'Reilly
(UPDATE: The researchers themselves have written a story for a Web site which dissects how the media covered their study, noting which media outlets seemed to accurately report what they were doing and who didn't. Luckily, she names me as one of the folks who got it, though I did put a headline on my original blog story of a type which she said was misleading.)
I couldn't find a decent clip on this until today, but my pal Fox News Channel anchor Bill O'Reilly tried dissecting the University of South Florida study I wrote about last week, which found that people in their sample who focused on GOP vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's looks rated her less competent than people who focused on her as a person.
By asking those in the study how they planned to vote, researchers also found that those who focused on her looks were less likely to vote for her -- even among Republicans and Independents.
Unfortunately, O'Reilly stumbled into the same confusion as some folks who wrote comments on my blog and the newspaper story published Saturday -- talking more about what they want the study to say than what the study actually addresses.
O'Reilly seems to have trouble understanding the study's methodology, and turns to comments from a radio talk show host who sounds as if she didn't even read the study. The anchor kept talking about how he wanted to read essays written by those surveyed to see what they thought of Palin's beauty.
But the point of the study was to take one group and have them evaluate Palin's appearance, take another group and have them evaluate Palin as a person and then ask each group what they thought of Palin's competence. The group thinking about her appearance gave her lower marks for competence, and the results cut across party lines -- with even those who identified themselves as Republicans and Independents evaluating her as less competent, if they saw her through the prism of her appearance.
The possible lesson here, is that the most successful female candidates may be those who downplay their looks and discourage media images that play off their physical attractiveness. Think Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi rather than Katherine Harris and Sarah Palin
(a friend wondered is the results would be the same if respondents focused on a woman generally thought to be less attractive, like Janet Reno.)
O'Reilly ends the segment by saying he doesn't "get" the study -- perhaps because he didn't take much time before the broadcast to understand it.