T Nation

Another Study Finds Liberal Media Bias


#1

Yet another study, same result. You'd think if the concept were tragically flawed there would be some studies coming out showing conservative media bias, or at least neutrality...

Another note -- many of these studies are done by academics, and we know what their political slant is...

BTW, I've always known the WSJ news page had a liberal slant, even though the editorial page has a conservative slant.

http://www.newsroom.ucla.edu/page.asp?RelNum=6664

Media Bias Is Real, Finds UCLA Political Scientist

Date: December 14, 2005
Contact: Meg Sullivan ( msullivan@support.ucla.edu )
Phone: 310-825-1046

While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper's news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times. The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left.

These are just a few of the surprising findings from a UCLA-led study, which is believed to be the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.

"I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican," said Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study's lead author. "But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are."

"Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left," said co‑author Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar.

The results appear in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which will become available in mid-December.

Groseclose and Milyo based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker's support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where "100" is the most liberal and "0" is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low‑population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average U.S. voter.

Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants ? most of them college students ? to scour U.S. media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

Next, they did the same exercise with speeches of U.S. lawmakers. If a media outlet displayed a citation pattern similar to that of a lawmaker, then Groseclose and Milyo's method assigned both a similar ADA score.

"A media person would have never done this study," said Groseclose, a UCLA political science professor, whose research and teaching focuses on the U.S. Congress. "It takes a Congress scholar even to think of using ADA scores as a measure. And I don't think many media scholars would have considered comparing news stories to congressional speeches."

Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS' "Evening News," The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

The most centrist outlet proved to be the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" and ABC's "Good Morning America" were a close second and third.

"Our estimates for these outlets, we feel, give particular credibility to our efforts, as three of the four moderators for the 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debates came from these three news outlets ? Jim Lehrer, Charlie Gibson and Gwen Ifill," Groseclose said. "If these newscasters weren't centrist, staffers for one of the campaign teams would have objected and insisted on other moderators."

The fourth most centrist outlet was "Special Report With Brit Hume" on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. While this news program proved to be right of center, the study found ABC's "World News Tonight" and NBC's "Nightly News" to be left of center. All three outlets were approximately equidistant from the center, the report found.

"If viewers spent an equal amount of time watching Fox's 'Special Report' as ABC's 'World News' and NBC's 'Nightly News,' then they would receive a nearly perfectly balanced version of the news," said Milyo, an associate professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Five news outlets ? "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown," Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and the Drudge Report ? were in a statistical dead heat in the race for the most centrist news outlet. Of the print media, USA Today was the most centrist.

An additional feature of the study shows how each outlet compares in political orientation with actual lawmakers. The news pages of The Wall Street Journal scored a little to the left of the average American Democrat, as determined by the average ADA score of all Democrats in Congress (85 versus 84). With scores in the mid-70s, CBS' "Evening News" and The New York Times looked similar to Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who has an ADA score of 74.

Most of the outlets were less liberal than Lieberman but more liberal than former Sen. John Breaux, D-La. Those media outlets included the Drudge Report, ABC's "World News Tonight," NBC's "Nightly News," USA Today, NBC's "Today Show," Time magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, NPR's "Morning Edition," CBS' "Early Show" and The Washington Post.

Since Groseclose and Milyo were more concerned with bias in news reporting than opinion pieces, which are designed to stake a political position, they omitted editorials and Op‑Eds from their tallies. This is one reason their study finds The Wall Street Journal more liberal than conventional wisdom asserts.

Another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom was that the Drudge Report was slightly left of center.

"One thing people should keep in mind is that our data for the Drudge Report was based almost entirely on the articles that the Drudge Report lists on other Web sites," said Groseclose. "Very little was based on the stories that Matt Drudge himself wrote. The fact that the Drudge Report appears left of center is merely a reflection of the overall bias of the media."

Yet another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom relates to National Public Radio, often cited by conservatives as an egregious example of a liberal news outlet. But according to the UCLA-University of Missouri study, it ranked eighth most liberal of the 20 that the study examined.

"By our estimate, NPR hardly differs from the average mainstream news outlet," Groseclose said. "Its score is approximately equal to those of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report and its score is slightly more conservative than The Washington Post's. If anything, government‑funded outlets in our sample have a slightly lower average ADA score (61), than the private outlets in our sample (62.8)."

The researchers took numerous steps to safeguard against bias ? or the appearance of same ? in the work, which took close to three years to complete. They went to great lengths to ensure that as many research assistants supported Democratic candidate Al Gore in the 2000 election as supported President George Bush. They also sought no outside funding, a rarity in scholarly research.

"No matter the results, we feared our findings would've been suspect if we'd received support from any group that could be perceived as right- or left-leaning, so we consciously decided to fund this project only with our own salaries and research funds that our own universities provided," Groseclose said.

The results break new ground.

"Past researchers have been able to say whether an outlet is conservative or liberal, but no one has ever compared media outlets to lawmakers," Groseclose said. "Our work gives a precise characterization of the bias and relates it to known commodity ? politicians."


#2

Here's a link to the actual study:

http://www.missouri.edu/~milyoj/files/wp0501_milyo.pdf

And one to Dr. Milyo's web page:

http://www.missouri.edu/~milyoj/


#3

I think we'd have to dig into this, and the subsequent measurement activities to see if it really has much to say...


#4

Pot calling the kettle black? :slight_smile:


#5

I hate liberals


#6

Chomsky has long held that in order to keep a "democracy" such as ours, a perception of liberal slant by the media is neccessary to keep the people in line.


#7

The reseach article claims that NPR is less liberal than the Washingon Post and that NPR is no more liberal than Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report.

Right off the bat this research is not credible.

I have a sinking feeling that this is just a right wingnut setup.


#8

All you need to do is watch "The situation room" on CNN any given day. When it gets to the viewer email section, see how many pro-administration/pro-republican/pro-anything other than impeachment actually make it on the air.


#9

This 'research' paper claims that DrudgeReport.com is 'left of center'.

ROTFLMFAO!


#10

Marmadogg,

If you paid attention, you'd note that the rating was because they rated all the stories to which Drudge linked, rather than just to the stories Drudge wrote. Thus, the Drudgereport rating is actually reflective more of the broad media than of Drudge himself -- which, if you think about it, is what one would expect from a link site.


#11

Another thorough analysis...

Why don't you check the professors' resumes before diving into ad hominem? Or see the fact that they refused all outside funding and even controlled for the political preferences of their research assistants?

There is a bit of a problem fairly unique to NPR though. The study didn't attempt to qualify academics, only think-tanks, and NPR often uses academics as sources -- much more often than think tanks.

No study is going to be perfect, because there is no exact measure -- that's why they try to find very good correlations and measure those.

As I said, this is just the latest in a series of studies looking at the media, ranging from self-reported political preferences of reporters to studies like this that attempt to quantify ideological bias in coverage. They all seem to turn out the same way -- wonder why that is?


#12

Read the entire thing. The article specifically notes that Drudge's score comes from the fact that he mostly links to reports from other sources and that his score does not reflect what he personally writes, ie, his score is weighted by the content of the articles he links to.

Geez.


#13

Conservative vs. liberal, I don't believe either word means anything besides you've chosen a team. You certainly can't point to either word and expect it to have any idealogical meaning.

Grow up and seek out many news sources and have a sensible debate, this practice of grouping the entire population into two schools of thought is demeaning to anyone with a brain.


#14

This is the first major gotcha with this study. It assumes that the US Congress, and the general US voter, is slightly left of center, and then measures all the outlets from that assumption.

They are defining the center as the average US voter's position, and then saying most media outlets are left of that. Duh!

That is just plain silly.

First, because the study completely ignores audiences, in two ways: it does not weigh each media outlet with the number of people that listen to it or read it, nor the political inclination of their audience; the former is essential to show the actual influence of any bias, the latter to show if the media is not simply catering to a demographic, i.e., the bias is not politically motivated, but rather financially motivated.

The second problem is that since you are defining the center as the average US voter's position, that doesn't completely match the definition of "conservative" or "liberal".

The average US voter is right of center even by US definitions, so if you are left of the average you are not really necessarily liberal. For example, McCain is clearly left of the center by this definition, but you don't see people calling him a liberal, do you?

Finally, before you throw at me other studies that point in the same direction -- as that meant anything these days, where the scientific method is dying a slow and painful death -- WHO FREAKIN' CARES?

If you don't like a media outlet because you feel they're biased, get your news elsewhere, and stop whining. Or, if you want to be an activist about it, expose SPECIFIC articles as being biased, showing how and where they're biased, get them published as rebuttals -- and stop whining.


#15

Technically they defined the "center" as the average position of Congress, and assumed that correlated with the position of the average voter.

So, the definition is that most media are to the left of the average of Congressional positions (not the median).

I don't really see this as a problem, given that's not what the study set out to measure. The study wasn't measuring the effect of bias, nor was it measuring the cause of any bias. It was simply trying to measure whether the bias exists. The cause and effect are interesting, but not the point.

Again, it's the average Congressional position, which they said was a proxy for the average voter position. Probably not a perfect proxy, but pretty good for a broad-based, multi-issue survey, which this necessarily is.

So, the problem is that they defined the "center" as actually to the left of the average voter, and then found that the media tended to be even further left than that?

You're quibbling broad definitions -- McCain is a liberal on certain issues, such as campaign finance reform -- centrist on certain issues, like coercive interrogation -- and right on certain issues, such as Iraq. That type of nuance is why they were using an average for a broad-based study like this -- to give an overall picture. It's useful to the extent averages are useful in general.

I rather think it's nice to do both, because when one points out specific instances, you get "that doesn't mean anything, it's just a collection of single instances." But it is good to try.

The importance of doing so is simply to make sure people are aware of the perspective of their information sources. Many people harbor the illusion of an unbiased news media, and to the extent these sorts of studies can disabuse them of that notion, mores the better...

It is even more important to point out because of how one-sided the bias tends to be.

As the summary of the study suggested, people should get their news from a variety of perspectives - so, of course, it helps to identify sources that, on average, offer certain perspectives.


#16

There is no such thing as liberal bias. The only time it seems as if there is a debate about a particular issue is when the elite disagree on something.

The debate is kept within a narrow range and it is not allowed to go outside that framework. This is the propaganda. The media is biased to it's owners not the liberals or conservative viewpoints whatever they may be.


#17

Do you seriously think I said that, or are you trying to be funny?

Just in case, let me explain again: they defined the "slight left of center" as the average voter, which is in reality RIGHT of the center. So they shifted the center to the right.

Like this:

Reality:

L ---- C --x-- R

(x - average voter, which is right of center)

Their assumption is that C is where x is, like this:

L ------- xC - R

So, by increasing the center to the right, they "expanded" the left and hence it's easier to fit stuff there.

Oh, Yes, they're useful to push racism, sexism, celebrate mediocrity and other "useful" stuff.

Get a grip. Averages (and even medians) are one of the most useless, misleading concepts ever conceived.

So, having a preconceived notion about the bias of a certain publication is useful? 'Cause a publication is immutable, with immutable contributors that ALL have exactly the same bias?

What are you going to advocate next, racial profiling? Or that men be given preference on admissions to Graduate studies?


#18

Yes, I'm aware of the math you're using to define the political "center" as the median. However, there's an excellent argument to be made that the center position should be the average of the voters. Which they attempted to do in the study by using the average position of a member of Congress.

However, one could argue that, due to gerrymandered districts and just due to irregular geographic dispersion, the average of Congress is to the left of the average of the voters. The Republican majority is fairly slim in both Houses, and I don't see how one could take the position that there are more conservative D's than there are liberal R's in Congress.

So, we can note you disagree with the definition, but it's a perfectly plausible definition of the political center -- you don't need to attempt to find a median between communism and monarchy to find the center.

And yet somehow some fairly smart people find uses for them. Shocking.

Oh come on. Why not add that I'm advocating genocide and the rise of a 4th Reich while you're at it, hmm?

I don't even think that rises to the level of a straw man.

Are you trying to say that the fact a piece is published by the Socialist Workers Daily should be ignored in how you read it?

Anyway, neither the authors of the study - academics like yourself remember, though I'm sure you find them turncoats to the cause, and insufficiently scientific as political scientists - nor I made any such claims of immutability. For example, the LA Times recently changed ownership and in its upper-level editors, and while I haven't yet discerned a change in the politics of the news, it's at least gotten more interesting. But if the fact that things change, at whatever rate, made taking measurements as they are worthless, it's news to me. I believe this study measured the media sources over the previous 10 years, which seems like a good measurement time for such a study.

Knowing where a source is generally is just one thing a reader should keep in mind to interpret intelligently. He also has background knowledge, and comparisons to other sources, among other tools. And of course he should read with an eye toward how the individual author presents (and tends to present) the facts.

I find your apoplexy over the fact that someone would even try to measure the political leanings of the media to be puzzling, to say the least.


#19

Well, I find people creating pre-conceived notions silly, short-sighted and dangerous. If you're reading a newspaper with a pre-conceived notion that it leans to the left or to the right, you're going to add your bias to the equation, making objective analysis harder, not easier. And don't tell me it's that different from creating a bias in regards to race or gender or on anything for that matter. They have the same basic principle behind it.

Why is it something that gets me so riled up? Well, two main reasons:

Professional, because I've had multiple discussions with Stanford's Admissions office in regards to this, and there have been multiple occasions where their use of averages, medians, and gross generalizations has gotten them to make decisions that I question to this day, and probably robbed me of some pretty great students, while letting some complete morons get in. Their excuses sound much like yours, and, honestly, I'm tired of it. I just hope they don't end up like Berkeley, which is dying exactly because of years of asinine admission criteria.

Personal, because my wife's two PhD's are in the area of Statistics, and for several reasons she's a particularly strong advocate against the kind of studies that these guys did, and some of her (scientific) arguments are very compelling... So I tend to be her proxy on that...


#20

I see most of the MSM leaning left and FoxNews leaning right.

Does that mean I am objective or not objective?