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Friday, February 24, 2012

Measuring Media Bias, and Reactions

"Aristotle was famous for knowing everything. He taught that the brain exists merely to cool the blood and is not involved in the process of thinking. This is true only of certain persons." - Will Cuppy

***

Left Turn: When hell broke loose | Power Line

"18 of the 20 outlets were left of center. The only two that were not were the Washington Times and Fox News’ Special Report with Brit Hume.

Our findings, however, contradicted a few claims of conservatives. For instance, they showed that some mainstream news outlets are nearly perfectly centrist, albeit still left-leaning. Two were ABC’s Good Morning America and [PBS's] The Newshour with Jim Lehrer. Also, we found that many supposedly far-left news outlets were not that far left. For instance, we found that National Public Radio was no more liberal than the Washington Post, Time, or Newsweek. And we found that it was less liberal than the average speech by Senator Joe Lieberman...

Our study was denounced by hundreds, and maybe thousands, of left-wing blogs, including Media Matters, the Daily Kos, and the Huffington Post. At one point if you googled “crap UCLA study,” most of the first ten listings would refer to our study...

Many of the blogs attacked us personally and tried to insinuate that right wing groups had paid us to fudge our results.

The emails were even more vicious. “I’ve been in media relations for twelve years, and I’ve never seen anything like this... I hope your home address is not public”

A few people emailed the UCLA chancellor, insisting that I be fired. One of them noted on the subject line “Groseclose must be fired IMMEDIATELY,” as if simply firing me next week would a grave injustice...

[A colleague] casually mentioned how the only people who listen to Rush Limbaugh are ignorant extremists. I quickly explained why he was wrong, and told him, in fact, that I had been listening to Limbaugh that day...

I told him, “No, it’s not true that liberals and conservatives are equally decent. Liberals have worse manners, they go to church less, they more often live in aggressive, urban environments, they shout people down at public speeches, and they use more vulgarity when they talk.” At first he didn’t respond. I think he decided that the best response was just to give me a look as if I had just claimed that the earth was flat. But then, just for good measure, he said “Funny how all of those well-mannered conservatives favor pre-emptive strikes against innocent Iraqis”...

The chairs of the departments of sociology, religion, and German and Russian languages were especially angry, and they called it “offensive” and “scandalous.” One said “The study isn’t research. It’s agitprop for the conservative blogosphere.”

After the meeting, one of the professors sent Milyo an email to reprimand him:

… In that lay part of my objection, and here I have to say that it’s not to your work qua research at all. Rather, its presentation on the website made a pretty categorical claim about bias that taps into a charged political environment. There are difficult issues that underpin the website headline, and your study is complex and sophisticated enough to treat many of them; far more subtle and nuanced than the journalistic reductio. There are of course issues outstanding or open to discussion (what’s included by way of news sources, whether conceptual categories like liberal and conservative have veridical legitimacy as identity markers, where and how one designates boundaries of same [i.e., you can call something X and cite as reason a widely accepted standard, but that in no way means that the thing really is X, or so a philosopher would say], how one categorizes constellations of dispositions, how one treats what Bakhtin called dialogism in discourse analysis, and so forth. …

Milyo and I couldn’t understand him either...

The most vicious response of all was by Eric Alterman, a writer at Media Matters. He insinuated that we were paid by rightwing think tanks to fudge our results. “Rigging the Numbers” was the title of his essay...

Larry Greenfield, a fellow at the Claremont Institute, has made a profound observation about the psyche of the far left: “They worship the god of Equality.” A corollary of his observation is the following: While other virtues, such as kindness and honesty, are important, they are secondary when they clash with Equality.

Our study, at least in small ways, harms the goal of Equality. In at least small ways, it works to make U.S. public policy less “progressive” and less consistent with “social justice.” If you are an advocate of “social justice” and “progressive” values, then, even if you believe that our study is true, you should hate it. Further, if you value Equality more than other virtues, then it would be appropriate for you to conclude, “Smearing Groseclose and Milyo’s study is justified, even if the smears are false.” You would also be justified in attacking us personally, even saying false and vicious things about our character. As the leftwing icon Saul Alinsky advised, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it [my emphasis], and polarize it”...

The present views of the average voter are distorted—that is, if it weren’t for media bias, then those views would be more conservative. While my original study found that the media is to the left of the (distorted) position of the average voter, the above fact means that the media is even further away from the natural, non-distorted position of the average voter. That is, not only is the media biased, it’s even more biased than people realize.

But before I describe that research, let me describe the most surprising response to our study—that of professors at elite universities...

Although the audiences at those universities were overwhelmingly liberal, and often they raised methodological objections, not once did anyone attack me personally; nor did anyone ever suggest that I was anything but honest while conducting the research...

Not one of the professors who criticized the study showed up at the debate...

At no point in the review process did anyone at the [Quarterly Journal of Economics] ask, “Are you currently, or have you ever been, associated with any conservative organization?” Many leftwing blogs, including Media Matters, denounced our paper because of our prior affiliation with conservative groups. Some blogs, for the same reason, even denounced the QJE for accepting our paper. The writers at these blogs should consider how much they sound like Joe McCarthy—once you substitute “conservative” for “communist.” The beauty of the review process at the QJE—and all other scientific journals of which I am aware—is that they don’t care about the political views and associations of the authors who submit papers. They judge the papers strictly by their merits...

A few months after the QJE accepted our paper, instead of firing me, UCLA promoted me—from Associate Professor of Political Science to “full” Professor of Political Science.

That one surprised me. Out of the many hundreds of professors at UCLA, I’m aware of only nine who voted for John McCain in 2008, and one of those nine asked me never to reveal that fact to anyone at UCLA. I am almost certain that not one dean, chancellor, or vice-chancellor at UCLA voted for McCain in 2008 or Bush in 2000 or 2004."


On the methodology:

"Dr. Tim Groseclose, a professor of political science and economics at UCLA, has spent years constructing precise, quantitative measures of the slants of media outlets. He does this by measuring the political content of news and converting that content into an SQ, or “slant quotient,” of the outlet. To determine bias, he compares SQs of news outlets to the PQs, or “political quotients,” of voters and politicians.

Among his conclusions are (i) all mainstream media outlets have a liberal bias, and (ii) while some supposedly conservative outlets—such as the Washington Times or Fox News Special Report—do lean right, their conservative bias is less than the liberal bias of most mainstream outlets."

Amusingly, I got 72.5 (more "liberal" than John F. Kennedy, and a bit less so than Joe Lieberman). Actually this just measures whether you'd vote more Democratic or Republican.
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