Home > News > Are the Media Ideologically Biased?
44 views 3 min 0 Comment

Are the Media Ideologically Biased?

- December 6, 2007

Are the media ideologically biased? Yes, and they’re liberal, if you’re Bernard Goldberg or countless others. Yes, and they’re conservative, if you’re Noam Chomsky or countless others.

Courtesy of Brendan Nyhan — himself a political science graduate student — here is a “no” vote from former White House advisor Dan Bartlett:

bq. TM: Do you think the press corps is responsible for putting that word out—that the president was lying [about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq]?

bq. BARTLETT: I don’t think they’re purposely doing it. Look, I get asked the question all the time: How do you deal with them when they’re all liberal? I’ve found that most of them are not ideologically driven. Do I think that a lot of them don’t agree with the president? No doubt about it. But impact, above all else, is what matters. All they’re worried about is, can I have the front-page byline? Can I lead the evening newscast? And unfortunately, that requires them to not do in-depth studies about President Bush’s health care plan or No Child Left Behind. It’s who’s up, who’s down: Cheney hates Condi, Condi hates Cheney.

One of the best studies of media bias is this paper by Matthew Gentzkow and Jesse Shapiro. In their sample of newspapers, they find two things:

bq. …the average newspaper?s language is similar to that of a left-of-center member of Congress, we estimate that the profi?t-maximizing points are also left-of-center on average.

bq. …the variation in slant across newspapers is strongly related to the political makeup of their potential readers, and thus to our estimated pro?fit-maximizing points.

Thus, any liberal bias is not due to the usual suspects — namely, the political preferences of journalists — but to good old-fashioned capitalism.

More relevant to the campaign season is Dave D’Alessio and Mike Allen’s meta-analysis of studies of partisan bias in media coverage of presidential campaigns. They find:

bq. In short, there is no evidence whatsoever of a monolithic liberal bias in the newspaper industry, at least as manifest in presidential campaign coverage. The same can be said of a conservative bias. There is no significant evidence of it.

The relevant biases in the media, as any textbook account or even casual observation will tell you, are precisely those named by Bartlett: a focus on vivid stories featuring conflict among prominent personalities, at the expense of more informative discussion of “the issues.”