Study Finds Pro-Surveillance Bias in Major US Newspapers, But Inaccurately Describes Pro-Surveillance as 'Conservative'

According to a new study by the Columbia Journalism Review, major American newspapers have had a significant "pro-surveillance" bias in their coverage of the federal government’s spying programs.

U.S. Government/Wikimedia CommonsU.S. Government/Wikimedia CommonsThe study's authors, Albert Wong and Valerie Belair-Gagnon, said in the report they wanted to explore whether the media has been biased in its post-Snowden coverage of government surveillance programs because biased reporting could influence public perceptions. To do this, they analyzed coverage of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) for either pro- or anti-surveillance bias.

The study summary explains:

We did a LexisNexis search of four of the largest US newspapers by circulation: The New York Times, USA Today, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post. [In each newspaper, we examined the prevalence of] 30 traditionally pro- or anti-surveillance terms.

The results, which surprised Wong and Belair-Gagnon, show significant pro-surveillance bias in all of the papers:

In all four newspapers, key words generally used to justify increased surveillance, such as security or terrorism, were used much more frequently than terms that tend to invoke opposition to mass surveillance, such as privacy or liberty.

USA Today led the pack, using pro-surveillance terms 36 percent more frequently than anti-surveillance terms. The LA Times followed at 24 percent, while The New York Times was at 14.1 percent. Even the Washington Post, where Barton Gellman was the first US journalist to break the news of the NSA’s surveillance, exhibited a net pro-surveillance bias in its coverage of 11.1 percent.

Addiitonally, the pro-surveillance bias they observed was generally covert, rather than overt, which the authors speculated would be make it more effective in swaying readers.

Ironically enough though, the study has clear biases of its own: The authors chose to equate the pro-/anti- surveillance dichotomy with modern political ideology. They said they wanted to "determine if there was an overall bias in either a pro- (traditionally conservative) or anti-surveillance (traditionally liberal) direction."

Why are they presenting surveillance as a left vs. right issue? Evidence clearly shows that opinions on NSA surveillance are not split along partisan lines. (The little bit that they are is in conservatives’ favor.) Among the public, a July Washington Post-ABC News poll found that 70 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of Republicans believe the NSA’s surveillance program intrudes on Americans’ privacy rights. A June Pew Research Center poll found that liberals and conservatives are nearly identical in their views on spying programs. When this poll broke down the subsets of each ideology, it found that Tea Party Republicans are actually the most likely to disapprove of government collection of telephone and Internet data.

Among politicians, Democrats have no better track record than Republicans in opposing surveillance. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who the National Journal ranked last year as one of the country’s most liberal politicians, has vigorously defended the NSA’s spying as a lawful way to “protect America.” President Obama responded to the leaks, not with embarrassment and a plan to stop the program, but with a whole-hearted defense of its necessity. 

So if the study’s authors meant for conservative to denote authoritarianism and liberal to mean freedom, as many social scientists do, they may want to re-evaluate. Conservative views are no more pro-surveillance than liberal ones. 

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  • Hugh Akston||

    So they did a survey of newspapers. By circulation. In 2013.

    Bias may not be the only reason that nobody takes the media seriously.

  • Irish||

    Addiitonally, the pro-surveillance bias they observed was generally covert, rather than overt, which the authors speculated would be make it more effective in swaying readers.

    Sort of like how they are covertly biased in favor of the state on virtually every other issue? Why don't these guys do a pro vs. con search for Obamacare from 2008 to the present, in favor of the stimulus, or in favor of gun control? It almost sounds like they only want to find bias when they can spin it as being 'conservative' instead of showing a general newspaper bias in favor of untrammeled state power.

  • General Butt Naked||

    Radley Balko has written on the media and what he perceives as a statist bias, not strictly a liberal/progressive one.

    I tend to agree that our press corps are more authoritarian than anything and would get behind any huge government program by scaring up the public regardless of the party behind it. That the democrats are more often than not the advocates of government intervention is merely a happy accident for them.

  • ||

    untrammeled

    Holy vocabulary, Batman! Nicely done.

  • SIV||

    Study Finds Pro-Surveillance Bias in Major US Newspapers, But Inaccurately Describes Pro-Surveillance as 'Conservative'

    Whoa... Cap'n Nick is definitely steering the ship o' Reason on a new course.

  • ||

    What a shocker, the media is statist. Thanks for doing that study, guys, you really opened my eyes.

  • Hyperion||

    In other news, the NSAs website has apparently been hacked and is down.

  • Pathogen||

    Maybe they didn't want to admit that it caught fire again...

  • Jesus H. Christ||

    TEAM politics seem to be part and parcel of science on every level. As an example, the recent study that showed tea party members on average knew more about science than non-tea party members. Remember how shocked the researcher was to find that tea party members weren't, by definition, knuckle dragging neanderthals?

  • ||

    That's why any "social" science study or "psychology" science study that comes out can pretty much be ignored flat out. If it has the slightest thing that can be warped/mapped onto the TEAM RED/TEAM BLUE KULTUR WAR, it will be. Only a TEAM idiot would do such studies in the first place, and lo and behold, it always seems that the results of the studies favor the authors' TEAM.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Yes, Creationism is merely a TEAM construct and is purely relative!

    God, you are a fucking idiot and I rarely evoke imaginary beings.

  • ||

    Yes, Creationism is merely a TEAM construct and is purely relative!

    Suddenly, out of nowhere, CREATIONISM!

    CHRISTFAGS! BUSHPIGS!

  • Hyperion||

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    So what? They're aren't any conservatives on this libertarian site!

    ///++++

  • Generic Stranger||

    Been hitting the sauce? You're somehow even less coherent than usual.

  • ||

    They're

    Lel

    Clearly partisan bias is only relevant if you belong to a TEAM

  • Sevo||

    ..."They said they wanted to "determine if there was an overall bias in either a pro- (traditionally conservative) or anti-surveillance (traditionally liberal) direction.""

    A laff riot!

  • Habeas Dorkus||

    Progressives, handed their poster-boy as commander-in-chief, are now trembling with the thought of power.
    Under Bush, they would have moved for impeachment. Under African-American Stalin Obama, they feel like the new Jesus has come to save us all for our own good.
    President Obama is a dictator whose followers would gladly turn the guns on us if only they had the power.
    And they're pursuing it.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    YES! The guns are upon you!

    Wait! What guns? Obama done took them all away!!

  • Sevo||

    Palin's Buttplug|10.25.13 @ 8:37PM|#
    "YES! The guns are upon you!
    Wait! What guns? Obama done took them all away!!"

    Special (Olympics) practice?
    Hit the bottle early?
    Even you aren't normally this imbecilic.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Conservative means "traditional, compliant, accepting of authoritah/tradition" - so this news is meaningless.

  • Pathogen||

    Booooooooosh?

  • Agammamon||

    Conservative doesn't have any connotation of compliance or abjectly surrendering to power.

    It means not fixing shit that ain't broke to start with, respect yer damn elders, we did it this way growing up and that's damn well good enough for you, get off'n my damn lawn.

  • ||

    Conservative means "traditional, compliant, accepting of authoritah/tradition" - so this news is meaningless.

    So then people advocating for policies that were popularized 100 years ago, and that were cemented into law 70 years ago. Or even the people who think a law passed 3 years ago is sacrosanct. Those would be...?

  • Agammamon||

    So, we have a program run by a liberal executive, a liberal senate, strong liberal sympathies within all the agencies of the government (from agency heads on down),yet supporting this program is a *conservative* thing?

  • Killazontherun||

    Wrong dichotomy, Wong. The Left has been total shit on civil liberties since the Reign of Terror, the Right has been absolute shit on them since the one that replaced them.

  • eyeroller||

    You could argue that "traditionally conservative" means statist, and "traditionally liberal" means libertarian.

    It all depends on which traditions you cherry-pick.

  • Pelosi's Accommodator||

    They definitely used "traditionally" as a weasel word.

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