Did You Hear the One About Fox News Being Less Biased than the “Liberal” Media?

by Kevin Jon Heller

The Volokh Conspiracy is hosting a discussion of a new book on media bias entitled Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts The American Mind.  Here is a snippet from the summary on the Amazon page:

Dr. Tim Groseclose, a professor of political science and economics at UCLA, has spent years constructing precise, quantitative measures of the slant of media outlets. He does this by measuring the political content of news, as a way to measure the PQ, or “political quotient” 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 the Washington Times or Fox News’ Special Report — do lean right, their conservative bias is less than the liberal bias of most mainstream outlets.

If you can stop laughing long enough at the central thesis of the book, you might want to note that there is already a burgeoning critical literature on its flawed methodology, which somehow manages to lead to the conclusion that the RAND Corporation is more liberal than the ACLU, the NRA is barely right-of-center, and the ACLU is on the conservative side of the ledger.  (Were that it so!)  It also claims that, but for liberal media bias, McCain would have defeated Obama 56% to 42% in the last election.

In any case, you can find the Volokh Conspiracy’s intro post here.  And here is a roundup of links to sources that debunk the book and/or its underlying academic studies:

  • A forthcoming article by Carnegie-Mellon’s John Gasper.
  • An analysis by Brendan Nyhan, a professor of government at Dartmouth.
  • An analysis by Geoff Nunberg, a linguistics professor at Berkeley.
  • Critical thoughts by Columbia’s Andrew Gelman.
  • An analysis by Media Matters.

Not surprisingly, the authors of the book have received funding from the usual conservative suspects, such as AEI, The Heritage Foundation, and the Hoover Institute.


20 Responses

  1. Why should we be laughing? Do we also laugh when liberal groups fund research? Are we supposed to be laughing at the report out by Media Matters? Or is that to be seriously taken because it coincide with the perspective that you  find acceptable?

    Your reference to “the usual conservative suspects,” as though it’s criminal to have conservative political philosophy is an unfortunately not-so-shocking example of what is wrong with liberal and leftist ideology.

    I expect that if this was a book attacking conservative thought, funded by the usual liberal suspects, conservatives using such tired and lazy references would be metaphorically tarred and feathered. But you won’t be I suspect.

  2. From the author:  “While researching and writing the book, all of the research money and salary that I received came only from the universities that employed me, Stanford and University of California.”
    So not sure where Kevin’s “usual conservative suspects” comment comes from.  On the other hand, the criticisms from Columbia, Berkeley, and especially Media Matters makes me think it’s just the “usual liberal suspects” circling the wagons.  When you don’t want to engage, disparage!

  3. Kevin, I used to be a liberal/left of center person like you are, but I have seen enough nonsense and intellectual dishonesty on the Left to realize these labels are meaningless. Many in the media are “liberals” and they are a product of the legitimate schools they were educated in.  Turn to law schools.  Look at the Top 20 – UPenn, Yale, NYU, Berekely, Stanford, etc. these are the nation’s elite law schools but have a leftist bias.  Some Top 20 are not known for leftist leanings (Georgetown, UTexas and Virginia) but most Top 20 schools I think are.  I imagine the media journalists were educated in well regarded schools which also have a leftist leaning.  If anything, FOX News is simply a counter weight to the liberal ideology of mainstream media.

  4. Those wanting to read the relevant literature (and then some), should consult this compilation by yours truly at the Ratio Juris blog: Mass Media: Politics, Political Economy & Law.

    Here’s the link: http://ratiojuris.blogspot.com/2010/10/mass-media-politics-political-economy.html 

  5. I’m trying to figure out what this post has to do with “informed discussion and lively debate about international law and international relations.”

  6. Thanks for the links. It’s interesting to see that such an obviously flawed methodology can be defended by supposedly intelligent conservatives. It’s basically argument by definition, and plays directly into the rampant epistemic closure and anti-intellectualism of the modern conservative movement in the US.

  7. Bemused,

    The media are the primary source of Americans’ information about international law and international relations.  The possibility/actuality of media bias is directly relevant to that.

  8. I’m sorry, but how is this, in any way, related to the scope of this blog? I used to read Opinio Juris for its informed, analytical, and well-reasoned debates concerning critical issues in international law. Now, I frequently find myself confronted with snide commentary lacking both support and–more importantly–relevance to international law.

  9. The title of the book makes me rather strongly suspect that the author had a conclusion and went in search of methodology that would allow him to state it.
    That rarely bodes well for anything that follows.

  10. Why would we laugh?  Only someone who is high as a kite, obtuse, or knowingly dishonest would deny liberal media bias as a general principle.  New York Times, Guardian, BBC, CNN, L.A. Times, NBC MSNBC, CBS, ABC, Daily Show, Colbert Report (for the kids), NPS, PBS docs, Washington Post, Salon, Boston Globe…
    Do you deny that all of those are liberal?  Conservatives have what?  FOX News, New York Post (sometimes), Wall St. Journal (maybe the op-ed page), Washington Examiner.
    Come on Heller.  Your laughter and your own bias (we all have them of course) goes over well at those cocktail parties where y’all (see that — oogedy boogedy!! 🙂  ) make fun of Tea Partiers as terrorists and rubes, but doesn’t pass muster outside the front door of the ivory tower.
    So yeah FOX is biased. Saying the others aren’t biased is dishonest.

  11. As one who self-describes as a poststructuralist with post-anarchist sympathies, I have little appreciation for either political instantiations and their media agencies. That said, anyone who’s critically thinking and questioning the framing of “news” can rather safely observe that the Left’s media goes much further left than the Right’s (not to mention the overwhelming dominance in influence and control the Left wields).

    Just look at how the fringe candidates and outliers are handled across the media. Fox is openly scornful of Palin and Bachmann, preferring more moderate candidates that would appear (from their perspective) to resonate with the independent voters. MSNBC, CNN, the NYTimes and other similar entities castigate their moderates, demanding purity (just look to the growing anger for “do nothing” Obama who only sacrificed his political capital for an extremely unpopular seizure of the health care sector, a Progressive vision for decades). Obama is seen as “not left enough” and thus in jeopardy not by the centrists, but the radical left who strongly influences the media.

    All of this is particularly annoying for the few of us who find both parties to be intellectually dull. It’s unfortunate that progressives have forgotten their heritage, rich with those who question like New York Times editor and Pulitzer prize winner Walter Lippmann (whom should be promptly read by this blog’s owner to potentially invite a glimmer of critical thought and skepticism toward the “objective” Left media machine so adored).

  12. I worked for the San Francisco Chronicle for a good many years and watched it evolve from a newspaper that was a middle of the road sheet that only occasionally and timidly ventured the owner’s opinion on the editorial page to a full-blown organ of the left. It wasn’t the result of any of any conspiracy or conscious decision. Its hires beginning with the first Woodward-Bernstein wave were political and social activists. As time passed, they outnumbered the old Front Page types for whom story was more important.  Group-think then began deciding which stories would be followed. Agendas developed. One unintended consequence was newspapers became boring, a factor in their decline and fall. Of course there is a left-wing bias in the media. Only the obstinate or obtuse would argue otherwise.

  13. So it wasn’t liberal media bias that prompted JournoList-tainted CBS to air a heavily-edited video of Michelle Bachmann standing in the rain saying, “Who likes wet people?” captioned with the false (and indeed libelous) quote, “Who likes white people?”
    From the JournoList archives:
    “Pick one of Obama’s conservative critics; Fred Barnes, Karl Rove, who cares — and call them racists.”
    -Spencer Ackerman, from the JournoList Archives.
    People who don’t believe there is a liberal bias in mainstream media are being willfully ignorant — or, as JournoList taught us is far more likely, willfully deceptive.

  14. Heller isn’t being dishonest, he just falls under the catagory of A Fish Doesn’t Know It’s Wet. People who live in a liberal bubble beleive that liberal media is actually normal. Fox has a conservative bias with it’s opinion shows but not even close to that of MSNBC or CNN. Line up the competing shows on MSNBC compared to Fox. Breit Baer/Al Sharpton, Shep Smith/Chris Matthews, Bill O’Rielly/Lawernce O’ Donnell, Hannity/Maddow, Greta/Ed Shultz.

    All of the MSNBC shows are left wing fringe, Baer leans right but not much, Shep Smith is a liberal, O’ Rielly probably votes republican but he’s not conservative, Hannity is fringe right wing and Greta who knows.

    With MSNBC there is no question that they are all left wing Obama fan bois and girls.

  15. Professor Heller,

    Why not once and for all take a poll of national television and newsprint media and simply ask them who they supported in the 2008 election. Or 2004. Or 2000. Or will in 2012. Then, try to explain how the numbers you get – probably topping 90% voting consistently democrat, manage to somehow refrain from letting bias bleed into their coverage. It would take an almost sociopathological restraint on their part to collectively disassociate themselves so earnestly.

  16. Compare:  It took the MSM months to finally acknowledge Obama’s decades-long ties to the racist preacher Jeremiah Wright.

    Joe the Plumber, a citizen minding his own business who asks a candidate a question when the candidate comes onto the man’s own turf is profiled and slimed by the MSM in less than 48 hours.

    No, nothing to see here. Keep moving …

  17. Poll after poll has been taken and the results have always been the same: the mainstream media is overwhelmingly liberal. Does it affect their judgment?
    Let’s set the Wayback Machine to 2004 and hear about media bias in their own words:
    “Let’s talk a little media bias here. The media, I think, wants Kerry to win and I think they’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards I’m talking about the establishment media, not Fox. They’re going to portray Kerry and Edwards as being young and dynamic and optimistic and there’s going to be this glow about them, collective glow, the two of them, that’s going to be worth maybe 15 points.”
    -Evan Thomas, Newsweek
    There is in this proclamation not just an admission of bias but a stunning display of hubris. It was this attitude, perhaps combined with the re-election of Bush despite the media’s best efforts, that set them on the destructive path that would ultimately lead to the depravity of Spencer Ackerman and his mainstream media colleagues.
    If a coordinated strategy of falsely accusing conservatives of racism isn’t proof of mainstream media bias we need a new definition of the word “bias”.

  18. My god Heller, if you’re going to pretend to know something about the science of media bias, pull your head out of the echo chamber and actually read the relevant peer-reviewed journal articles.  Pretty much every advancement in social science methods is followed by a “critical literature” that critiques, refines, and expands the original findings, so what, it doesn’t necessarily invalidate the original findings.  Although you can’t even cite a peer-reviewed critique or a refinement of Groseclose’s methods.  So fracking lazy, your kind is now so common in academia.  Enjoy the coming education bubble!

  19. Former Democrat Michael Barone:

    I remember a conversation I had with a broadcast news executive many years ago.

    “Doesn’t the fact that 90 percent of your people are Democrats affect your work product?” I asked.

    “Oh, no, no,” he said. “Our people are professional. They have standards of objectivity and professionalism, so that their own views don’t affect the news.”

    “So what you’re saying,” I said, “is that your work product would be identical if 90 percent of your people were Republicans.”

    He quickly replied, “No, then it would be biased.”

    I have been closely acquainted with newsroom cultures for more than 30 years, and I recognize the attitude. Only liberals can see the world clearly. Conservatives are prevented by their warped and ungenerous views from recognizing the world as it is.

    The New York Times and The Washington Post have often hired as reporters writers who have worked on liberal publications like The New Republic, The Washington Monthly and The American Prospect — and many of those writers have produced fine work. But they have never hired as reporters writers who have worked on conservative publications like National Review, The Weekly Standard and The American Spectator. News media executives like to brag about the diversity of their staffs, but there is precious little political diversity in most newsrooms.

  20. Yes, snickering, condescension, and eye-rolling.  Those are indeed powerful intellectual arguments.
    You guys have got to figure out that those tactics work much better on other liberals, to keep them in line, than they work on people outside your circle.  Trying to find the weakest of your opponent’s arguments, misstating it, and sneering is just not a compelling case.

Trackbacks and Pingbacks

  1. There are no trackbacks or pingbacks associated with this post at this time.