Wednesday, December 21, 2005

WHEEL IS ROUND: ACADEMICS SURPRISED

Actually, that's rather unfair. Tim Groseclose, lead author of a recent UCLA-led study which concluded that (wait for it...) the US media is biased, stated:
"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."
I don't suppose this is news to the majority of bloggers, much of whose time is spent dissecting articles from mainstream media outlets and exposing examples of partisan hackery masquerading under the banner of objective journalism. However, the study does contain some interesting findings:
  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • National Public Radio, often cited by conservatives as an egregious example of a liberal news outlet...ranked eighth most liberal of the 20 that the study examined.
So some surprises for those on both sides of the media impartiality debate.

To counter accusations of political bias, the study's authors chose to use the same number of Republican research assistants as Democrats and no funding, either public or private, was used to finance their research. The methodology looks quite impressive too:
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."
It would interesting to see the results of a similar study in the UK. However, there could be problems:
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.
Sadly this would disqualify most of the written content of the Independent from the study.

One aspect of media bias that the study failed to address was that of the choice of stories media outlets consider to be newsworthy. Realistically, every journalist, whether professisonal or citizen, will fail to remain impartial at some point. We can all appreciate that the spin put on a story in the Independent will be different to the way it is told in the Telegraph.

The greater sin however is the omission of a story for political reasons, the Independent choosing to fill its entire front page with a story about badgers rather than news of the Iraqi election being a case in point.

On the subject of Iraq, how many of Chrenkoff's "Good News from Iraq / Afghanistan" stories ever made it onto our screens or into our newspapers compared with the number of quagmire tales of the neverending supply of suicide bombers? Are the opinions of ordinary Iraqis on matters such as elections, occupation and the insurgency considered by the media to be as important as those of say, Mother Peace?

(Pictures courtesy of Yahoo!News, hat tip to LGF)


Thank God for blogs.

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