Quantifying media bias

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LeftTurnBookEarlier this week I plowed through Tim Groseclose’s new book “Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind.”

Conservatives have known for at least a couple decades that the media is far more liberal than the public at large. And any conservative who’s actually worked in a newsroom knows that the bias is actually worse than your average American ever even imagines it to be.

Those topics have been covered repeatedly over the years by the likes of L. Brent Bozell of the Media Research Center and former CBS newsman Bernard Goldberg in his books “Bias” and “Arrogance.”

What’s new about Groseclose book is that his work is far less anecdotal and infinitely more analytical. I can tell stories about business reporters chatting about Noam Chomsky’s latest book or about the editor who fell for the Bush states IQ hoax and who went on to work for Pro Publica, but none of my stories can put an actual number on exactly where a particular journalist, newspaper or broadcast news organization lies on the the political spectrum.

And that’s exactly what Groseclose has helpfully done here. Through his own research and that of other social scientists, Groseclose has determined that:

  • The average voter in the U.S. is at about 50.4 on his Political Quotient scale with 0 being very conservative (Michele Bachmann, Jim DeMint) and 100 being very liberal (Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank).
  • The average Slant Quotient (the media equivalent of the aforementioned Political Quotient) is 58.5. Note: this number includes talk radio and Fox News, both of which pull the SQ lower. If you just took the SQs of The New York Times, USA Today and The Wall Street Journal, then the SQ is more like 64.
  • Media bias does, in fact, have a noticeable and very specific effect on the political views of citizens. Groseclose determined that if the media actually achieved “clarity” (Groseclose’s term for a media environment where the news was reported perfectly fairly), then the average voter would have a PQ of 25.

I can’t emphasize enough that Groseclose’s work isn’t conjecture—it’s solid social science. For those of you who were impressed by Steven Levitt’s “Freakonomics,” you will find Groseclose’s book just as scientifically and statistically based.

An honest and sincere media establishment in this country would look at this book and do some serious soul-searching. It would make a conscious effort to hire people who would report stories from the right as well as the left in an effort to sere their readers better.

That’s obviously not going to happen if the mainstream media’s absolute silence on Groseclose’s work is any indication.

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