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Absurd Rationalization to Justify Claims of Left Wing Media Bias

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Matt Drudge is linking
to a study
that purports to demonstrate that the media is, in fact, biased to the left. I am simplifying the study a great deal, but its basic argument relies on a measurement of references to left and right leaning think tanks. If a media outlet refers to liberal/left groups more often than the average lawmaker, the outlet is liberal.
Some of the results of the research are at least amusing:

  • The fourth most centrist outlet was “Special Report With Brit Hume.
  • Most media outlets are less liberal than Joe Lieberman
  • The Drudge Report leans left
  • This is good stuff. Somehow, a media that is less liberal than Joe Lieberman is biased to the left.

    The methodology of the study is unbelievably flawed. Articles often reference liberal-leaning think tanks in response to paragraph after paragraph of pro-govrnment, pro-militarist point of view. Just the mention of a think tank hardly obviates the overlying center-right message of the news. To believe, in the context of the NY Times covering up Bush’s flagrant abuse of wiretaps, the media’s refusal to demand casualty numbers in Iraq, right wing bias among NPR guests, to name a few, is either incredibly naive or amazingly cynical.

    It’s time to make clear–in letters to your local papers and national outlets–that the press needs to worry less about liberal bias, and more about giving the government a free pass.

    Eric Alterman quotes the Tom Tomorrow cartoon in his book What Liberal Media?:

    Imagine, “an expansive network of left-wing think thanks which are of course bankrolled by secretive left-wing financiers seeking to advance their radical agenda.” Now imagine “blatantly left-wing cable news networks and op-ed pages that then promote (left-wing) ideas relentlessly.” Had enough? What about “angry liberals” debating these left-wing proposals with weak, mealymouthed conservatives on the Sunday talk shows? Want more? How about an entire universe of left-wing talk radio hosts spending endless hours devoting themselves to hammering these left-wing notions into the heads of tens of millions of listeners across the land? Why, poor President Bush and Vice President Cheney wouldn’t have a chance.

    The Republicans have framed this debate so well that it seems that the public and media believe that the media is biased. It’s time to make clear–in letters to your local papers and national outlets–that the press needs to worry less about liberal bias, and more about giving the government a free pass.

    About the author

    Don Pogreba

    Don Pogreba is a seventeen-year teacher of English, former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.

    His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.

    In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.

    1 Comment

    • I would add that the professors who did the study relied on a complex system whereby they took congressional ADA (Americans for Democratic Action) score and compared the mentions of think tanks by congresspersons and the media. The ADA is one of the oldest liberal think tanks in the nation. It has a vested interest in legitimating its own view by realigning their measures of what “liberal” and “conservative” mean to show that there are people who agree with them. Besides, being as establishment as they are their idea of liberalism is hardly distinct from political moderation.
      And as addressed by the post itself, the idea of measuring the think tanks a medium mentions is hardly a scientific way of determining political leaning. As I often mention in classes, people receive the conservative side of things in everyday life; it is often mentioned without citation because it is so self apparent. Whereas because “liberal” has so many connotations, experts or think tanks are often called in as a legitimate expression of liberalism.
      Besides, there is a fundamental disconnect between comparing members of congress (read: individual human beings) and the action of media (read: conglomerates). There is a convention in academic writing that in order to be seen as legitimate the tools you are using to measure a phenomenon should specifically question at the level of analysis, that is, in the case of ADA scores, the individual, and not at a higher level such as a media organization. This is called the “ecological falacy”. I would like to read the justification in the paper about how they can ignore this convention.

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