Media Bias


Here's more on conservative media bias, courtesy the New York Times.
(Ron Bailey noted the bellyaching about right-wing media a few weeks ago.)

And then there's this piece in the new issue of The American Prospect which asks, "Why is the media—assumed by many to start with a liberal bias—applying the liberal label so readily to [incoming House Democratic leader Nancy] Pelosi but not the conservative tag to [incoming House Republican leader Tom] DeLay?"

The piece blames the supposed uneven treatment on "journalists who treat 'liberal' as a dirty word, the rise of the conservative media and even an element of sexism."

Now I don't have a dog in this fight. Like Ron, I think the real problem is that libertarian ideas rarely get any shake, let alone a fair one. But the allegation that the major media are tougher on liberals like Pelosi than on conservatives like DeLay is silly.

Here's some of the research on which the Prospect piece is based:

"A recent LexisNexis search revealed that 'Nancy Pelosi' and 'liberal' yielded more than 1,000 documents… A LexisNexis search of 'Tom DeLay' and 'conservative' returned only 534 documents from the last 90 days."

Whatever. I just did a LexisNexis search which revealed that "Nancy Pelosi" and "conservative" yielded more than 1,000 documents for the last 90 days. A search on "Tom Delay" and "liberal" produces 443. What the hell does this mean? Nothing, except that Nancy Pelosi is getting more press than Tom Delay. Sure enough, "Nancy Pelosi" alone gets 522 results over the past month compared to 255 for "Tom DeLay." And liberals are complaining? More telling: Of the 522 results for Pelosi, 151 (29%) include the word "liberal." Of the 255 results for DeLay, 112 (44%) include the word "conservative."

And systematic anti-Pelosi bias is hard to find looking through a sampling of the actual articles that turn up in the search on "Nancy Pelosi" and "liberal." Many of the results are either commentary pieces or transcripts from yak shows that featured pundits on the left and the right.

A December 7 AP story reads in part: "Democrats moved to their left in selecting liberal Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California to succeed Dick Gephardt of Missouri. Republicans mirrored that by inching further right in picking Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas to succeed retiring Rep. Dick Armey of Texas as majority leader."

And from a November 14 AP story: "Democrats settled on the 62-year-old liberal to succeed Dick Gephardt of Missouri… As Democratic leader, Pelosi is certain to be at odds with the hard-driving conservative Tom DeLay, the current Republican whip and newly elected majority leader, succeeding fellow Texan Dick Armey, who is retiring."

Enough of these dumb labels. By the way, a Lexis search on "libertarian" returns more than 1,000 documents for the past 90 days. That's not bad. Maybe I should stop complaining too.

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  1. Why is the appropriate comparison between Pelosi and DeLay? As a practical matter, the leader of the GOP in the House is Speaker Dennis Hastert, who is probably perceived as closer to the center than DeLay. But a focus on DeLay better serves efforts by TAP and the NYT to radicalize Republicans.

  2. Pelosi’s selection as Democratic leader was made in the context of post-electoral soul-searching by the Dems. The selection of the unabashedly liberal Pelosi versus some more moderate politician was the entire point of the stories. Thus, it is unsurprising that her name in recent news stories is commonly and explicitly linked to the term “liberal”, as that is the operative term in the context of the news about her.


  3. What you have to search for is the name of the person or group and do a w/5 to see if “conservative” or “liberal” appears within five words of their name. I did this for a large number of interest groups and think tanks, and I found a very pervasive media bias at the New York Times. ( though I’m not sure my criticism of Nunberg is correct)

    The downside to this is that while it can be an indicator of media bias, it’s just a minor part of it. Even if the NYT started slapping labels on conservatives more often than on liberals, they would still be very biased to the left, for other reasons.

    It is amazing how shoddy some of these Lexis-Nexis bias surveys can be. Either the Prospect is really stupid, or it’s willfully dishonest. The methodology behind their little “fact” is just so incredibly lame.

  4. I agree xm177e2. Search engine surveys don’t show anything.

    As an aside, why are liberals complaining, when they have a monopoly on k-12 schools?

  5. “By the way, a Lexis search on “libertarian” returns more than 1,000 documents for the past 90 days. That’s not bad. Maybe I should stop complaining too.”

    Yeah, but how many of those had “civil” in front of them? The ACLU gets plenty of press, but it’s a fickle friend of freedom…

  6. There is indeed a “liberal” bias to the press; professional jouralists share a common corporate liberal culture. But denunciations of “the liberal press” miss the point: 1) “liberals” (half an inch to left of center) and “conservatives” (half an inch to right of center) agree on more than they disagree; and 2)the “both sides” model ignores the vast spectrum of positions that is critical of the entire centrist liberal-conservative consensus. The basic assumptions shared by mainstream liberals and conservatives never become issues at all in the mainstream press.

    Mainstream Democrats and Republicans agree on the basic architecture of the state capitalist economy–subsidies, privilege, and other intervention–that they disingenuously call the “free market. They agree on the system of global corporate mercantilism that they call “free trade.” On a whole string of issues like GATT, NAFTA, and so-called “national security” policy, there ain’t a dime’s worth of difference between them. Liberals and conservatives agree on all the first-order structural principles on which our system of power is based. What they disagree on is second-order, largely lifestyle-oriented stuff, like gun control and “a woman’s right to choose.”

    That’s why things like, say, the anti-free market patent monopolies that inflate drug prices 1000%, never become an issue in the debate over drug policy. That’s why nobody proposes *selling* land from ANWR at *competitive market rates* instead of just charging nominal leases to politically connected oil companies.

  7. A book that didn’t get the press it deserved (overshadowed by the less-rigorous “Bias” by Goldberg) is “Coloring the News: How Crusading for Diversity Has Corrupted American Journalism” by William McGowan. A must-read for any student of media bias.

  8. Far more important than liberal or conservative bias in the mainstream media is the bias towards equivalency, spinning every story as “two peas in a pod.” Thus, Nancy Pelosi, who trends sort-of-liberal on some issues, sort of moderate on others, is presented as the mirror image of Tom DeLay, who thinks that evolutionary theory is a communist plot to turn our children into atheists. This is not about the media wanting to help out the radical right; it’s about a cowardly media that feels the need to split the difference on every story in the name of a phony definition of fairness. It reminds me of the “Depending on how you calculate the Bush tax cut…” stories.

  9. There is an inherent bias in news reporting in general that goes beyond political ideology, although it does tend to play into the hands of the left-leaning activist government crowd. Basically it’s just the human nature side that determines what is interesting to people. Stories that work with drama, intrigue or scandal get more attention than statistics or studies that truly allow one to gain an understanding of what is happening.

    Take the issue of school shootings, for example. Studies and statistics have shown that school violence in general and shootings in particular have decreased over the last five or ten years. However due to the extensive press coverage that ensues whenever one occurs anyone in the country (or the world, for that matter) has lead many to believe there is an ‘epidemic’ of school shootings. These things have the drama that captures the public’s attention. I call it the ‘media inversion principle’, in that the more uncommon something is the more attention it actually gets, thus creating the false perception that it is a common occurance. Same thing with plane crashes and terrorist attacks. Automobile crashes that kill occur every day and only make the (local)news because they inconvience traffic. Local violent crime committed for mundane reasons is more of a threat to most of us than terrorism.

    I’m not saying that ideological bias doesn’t come into it. It shows in the fact selection of the news reports (for example, recently on the news in Detroit there was a story about the unusually large number of children killed in Detroit in the last year, 16 of them, and that just over half were killed by guns. Why is that important? They could have more effectively pointed out that all of them were killed by drug-war related gang warfare, but obviously the reporter has the mindset that guns and crime are causally linked). However, even if there was some fictional ‘non-biased’ press the human attraction to unusual stories that pack a punch would distort perceptions of reality.

  10. the liberal media bias has been proven with books and hard evidence.the best selling books aren’t really books.they are detailed catalogues of examples of specific media bias that has yet to be rebutted.forget for a moment about what percentage of “reporters” voted for whom.lets just look at the stories one by one if necessary.or lets look at the entire story cycle of any given issue or event and analyze them openly and honestly.the liberal bias is clear and fact based rebuttals are batting,nbc,abc,cnn ,npr,nyt’s etc. eclipse rush,fox and others in eye balls garnered for the’s time to clear the air on this.

  11. It was inspired by a really obnoxious incident of blatant media political bias by the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. This is partly attributable to the Sun-Sentinel’s political writer Buddy Nevins.


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