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Liberal Media Bias?

Len Colby

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The study cited below determined that there is a liberal bias in the US media.

The study has a few major flaws. I don't know if the profs who set this up did this intentionally in order to have seemingly objective study "prove" that the US media leans left or an honest mistake.

The most important flaw is that a news article that refers to the NAACP does not necessarily have a liberal bias nor does one that mentions the Heritage Foundation a conservative one.

Media Bias Is Real, Finds UCLA Political Scientist



Date: December 14, 2005

Contact: Meg Sullivan ( msullivan@support.ucla.edu )

Phone: 310-825-1046


While the editorial page of The Wall Street Journal is conservative, the newspaper's news pages are liberal, even more liberal than The New York Times. The Drudge Report may have a right-wing reputation, but it leans left. Coverage by public television and radio is conservative compared to the rest of the mainstream media. Meanwhile, almost all major media outlets tilt to the left.

These are just a few of the surprising findings from a UCLA-led study, which is believed to be the first successful attempt at objectively quantifying bias in a range of media outlets and ranking them accordingly.

"I suspected that many media outlets would tilt to the left because surveys have shown that reporters tend to vote more Democrat than Republican," said Tim Groseclose, a UCLA political scientist and the study's lead author. "But I was surprised at just how pronounced the distinctions are."

"Overall, the major media outlets are quite moderate compared to members of Congress, but even so, there is a quantifiable and significant bias in that nearly all of them lean to the left," said co‑author Jeffrey Milyo, University of Missouri economist and public policy scholar.

The results appear in the latest issue of the Quarterly Journal of Economics, which will become available in mid-December.

Groseclose and Milyo based their research on a standard gauge of a lawmaker's support for liberal causes. Americans for Democratic Action (ADA) tracks the percentage of times that each lawmaker votes on the liberal side of an issue. Based on these votes, the ADA assigns a numerical score to each lawmaker, where "100" is the most liberal and "0" is the most conservative. After adjustments to compensate for disproportionate representation that the Senate gives to low‑population states and the lack of representation for the District of Columbia, the average ADA score in Congress (50.1) was assumed to represent the political position of the average U.S. voter.

Groseclose and Milyo then directed 21 research assistants — most of them college students — to scour U.S. media coverage of the past 10 years. They tallied the number of times each media outlet referred to think tanks and policy groups, such as the left-leaning NAACP or the right-leaning Heritage Foundation.

Next, they did the same exercise with speeches of U.S. lawmakers. If a media outlet displayed a citation pattern similar to that of a lawmaker, then Groseclose and Milyo's method assigned both a similar ADA score.

"A media person would have never done this study," said Groseclose, a UCLA political science professor, whose research and teaching focuses on the U.S. Congress. "It takes a Congress scholar even to think of using ADA scores as a measure. And I don't think many media scholars would have considered comparing news stories to congressional speeches."

Of the 20 major media outlets studied, 18 scored left of center, with CBS' "Evening News," The New York Times and the Los Angeles Times ranking second, third and fourth most liberal behind the news pages of The Wall Street Journal.

Only Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and The Washington Times scored right of the average U.S. voter.

The most centrist outlet proved to be the "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer." CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown" and ABC's "Good Morning America" were a close second and third.

"Our estimates for these outlets, we feel, give particular credibility to our efforts, as three of the four moderators for the 2004 presidential and vice-presidential debates came from these three news outlets — Jim Lehrer, Charlie Gibson and Gwen Ifill," Groseclose said. "If these newscasters weren't centrist, staffers for one of the campaign teams would have objected and insisted on other moderators."

The fourth most centrist outlet was "Special Report With Brit Hume" on Fox News, which often is cited by liberals as an egregious example of a right-wing outlet. While this news program proved to be right of center, the study found ABC's "World News Tonight" and NBC's "Nightly News" to be left of center. All three outlets were approximately equidistant from the center, the report found.

"If viewers spent an equal amount of time watching Fox's 'Special Report' as ABC's 'World News' and NBC's 'Nightly News,' then they would receive a nearly perfectly balanced version of the news," said Milyo, an associate professor of economics and public affairs at the University of Missouri at Columbia.

Five news outlets — "NewsHour With Jim Lehrer," ABC's "Good Morning America," CNN's "NewsNight With Aaron Brown," Fox News' "Special Report With Brit Hume" and the Drudge Report — were in a statistical dead heat in the race for the most centrist news outlet. Of the print media, USA Today was the most centrist.

An additional feature of the study shows how each outlet compares in political orientation with actual lawmakers. The news pages of The Wall Street Journal scored a little to the left of the average American Democrat, as determined by the average ADA score of all Democrats in Congress (85 versus 84). With scores in the mid-70s, CBS' "Evening News" and The New York Times looked similar to Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., who has an ADA score of 74.

Most of the outlets were less liberal than Lieberman but more liberal than former Sen. John Breaux, D-La. Those media outlets included the Drudge Report, ABC's "World News Tonight," NBC's "Nightly News," USA Today, NBC's "Today Show," Time magazine, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, NPR's "Morning Edition," CBS' "Early Show" and The Washington Post.

Since Groseclose and Milyo were more concerned with bias in news reporting than opinion pieces, which are designed to stake a political position, they omitted editorials and Op‑Eds from their tallies. This is one reason their study finds The Wall Street Journal more liberal than conventional wisdom asserts.

Another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom was that the Drudge Report was slightly left of center.

"One thing people should keep in mind is that our data for the Drudge Report was based almost entirely on the articles that the Drudge Report lists on other Web sites," said Groseclose. "Very little was based on the stories that Matt Drudge himself wrote. The fact that the Drudge Report appears left of center is merely a reflection of the overall bias of the media."

Yet another finding that contradicted conventional wisdom relates to National Public Radio, often cited by conservatives as an egregious example of a liberal news outlet. But according to the UCLA-University of Missouri study, it ranked eighth most liberal of the 20 that the study examined.

"By our estimate, NPR hardly differs from the average mainstream news outlet," Groseclose said. "Its score is approximately equal to those of Time, Newsweek and U.S. News & World Report and its score is slightly more conservative than The Washington Post's. If anything, government‑funded outlets in our sample have a slightly lower average ADA score (61), than the private outlets in our sample (62.8)."

The researchers took numerous steps to safeguard against bias — or the appearance of same — in the work, which took close to three years to complete. They went to great lengths to ensure that as many research assistants supported Democratic candidate Al Gore in the 2000 election as supported President George Bush. They also sought no outside funding, a rarity in scholarly research.

"No matter the results, we feared our findings would've been suspect if we'd received support from any group that could be perceived as right- or left-leaning, so we consciously decided to fund this project only with our own salaries and research funds that our own universities provided," Groseclose said.

The results break new ground.

"Past researchers have been able to say whether an outlet is conservative or liberal, but no one has ever compared media outlets to lawmakers," Groseclose said. "Our work gives a precise characterization of the bias and relates it to known commodity — politicians."


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One of my conservative friends sent me this as if it proves something. What does it prove? If he's claiming that the "liberal media" turns people against conservative leaders, well, the study actually DISPROVES that, as a paper with one of the most conservative audiences in the country, and perhaps THE most conservative op-ed page, the Wall Street F#@#@# Journal, was found to be the most liberal news source in the country.

The study is completely lame, akin to the HSCA trajectory analysis completely debunked in my presentation. Any study that considers the Heritage Foundation, a group created to give a voice to money, the equivalent of the NAACP, a group created to give a voice to a people traditionally deprived of a voice, is immediately suspect. And the idea that a credible news source should give equal coverage to these organizations is an extremely dangerous one.

I mean should every review of the new film Munich be countered by a reference to The Passion of the Christ? One is a historical drama and one is overtly religious. They are apples and oranges. Like the Bell Curve, this is a flawed study created for questionable purposes.

Edited by Pat Speer
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The idea that America as a left of centre media has been put around since McCarthy began his rantings in the late 1940s. It is true that the media world did contain some people on the left before McCarthyism took hold. However, most were identified by McCarthy and they were sacked and blacklisted. In June, 1950, three former FBI agents and a right-wing television producer, Vincent Harnett, published Red Channels, a pamphlet listing the names of 151 writers, directors and performers who they claimed had been members of subversive organisations before the Second World War but had not so far been blacklisted. The names had been compiled from FBI files. They were also blacklisted and many never worked again in the media in America. Many moved to the UK where they worked in our media. Some worked on the television series, Robin Hood, where they resurrected the myth that Robin Hood stole from the rich to give to the poor.

The blacklist was partly lifted in 1960 with the making of the film Spartacus (both the writer of the novel, Howard Fast, and the screenplay, Dulton Trumbo, had been on the blacklist). It is no coincidence that Spartacus was the topic of their movie (it is also no coincidence that it is the name of my publishing company and the sponsor of this Forum).

America has never fully recovered from McCarthyism and it is still very difficult to hold left-wing views and work in the mainstream media.

This study is deeply flawed because of the way it defines left and right. To non-Americans, it is strange to imply that being a member of the Democratic Party makes you a “liberal” or “left-wing”. From a European perspective, the vast majority of Democrats are right of centre.

I recently spent some time in America and as far as I could see, the media is very much under the control of the right. This was especially true of radio and television. However, newspapers and magazines tended to be more balanced in its political outlook. I imagine that is because the masses tend to get their information mainly from radio and television.

There have been several studies of political bias and the news media in the UK. They have shown that even in the UK there is a heavy bias against the left. It is not too difficult to work out why.

(1) Media organizations are invariably owned by rich people who are hostile to any idea of redistribution of wealth. They are therefore unlikely to provide a platform to those who hold strong left-wing views. Some media moguls like Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black are fairly open about this use of power whereas others tend to do it in a much more low-profile manner.

(2) Most media outlets rely on advertising. For example, it is impossible for newspapers to make money from the money received from their customers. They need to sell advertising space in order to survive. Those tending to buy advertising space are large corporations owned by wealthy businessmen. Once again, they are unlikely to be supporters of left-wing causes. They often use their “financial muscle” to shape the content of the newspaper, magazine, television station, etc.

The same is also true in the United States. That is why your media will always be biased against the left.

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