Liberal media bias is a subject we at Accuracy in Media confront on a daily basis. We identify examples, explain the significance, and present facts, figures and informed opinions that the media usually choose to ignore.
In a recent interview  with AIM, Tim Groseclose discussed his recent book, Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind . Groseclose is a professor of political science and economics at UCLA and has spent years constructing precise, quantitative measures of the slants of media outlets. He does this by measuring the political content of the news, and converting that content into an “SQ,” or “Slant Quotient,” of the outlet. To determine bias, he compares SQs of news outlets to the “PQs,” or “Political Quotients,” of voters and politicians. In the book, Groseclose contends that the general leftward bias of the media has shifted the PQ of the average American by about 20 points on a scale of 100. Groseclose attempts to quantify and understand liberal media bias by applying rigorous academic standards.
For the most part, Groseclose hits the nail on the head. He points to studies that demonstrate that a high percentage of reporters vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and their political donations reflect that. He talks about how much more often liberal think tanks are cited as sources than conservative ones, and how conservative sources are identified by their political leanings far more often than the liberal ones.
Categorizing The Drudge Report
He brings a very interesting dimension to the discussion, yet I think that in some ways, by adhering to these academic standards, the forest is missed for some of the trees. For example, he identifies Matt Drudge of The Drudge Report as “a left-leaning centrist,” mainly because so many of the publications he links to are liberal. But I don’t find that to be an accurate assessment. I see Groseclose’s point, and how he arrives at it, but it strikes me that Drudge is generally linking to these articles because, as we often demonstrate, there are facts and quotes in these articles that support the conservative viewpoint, or expose the liberal hypocrisy, if only those points were emphasized rather than buried in the linked stories.
Lately there has been an excellent example playing out that might not be easily analyzed by Groseclose’s system for studying and quantifying liberal media bias. The Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement has gotten such favorable publicity in the media that polls are showing that large numbers of Americans are sympathetic with what they are doing. The coverage stands in stark contrast to coverage of the Tea Party movement, which by comparison enjoys less support in the polls. This sympathy for OWS is, I believe, quite clearly driven by the media coverage.
Obama Embraces “Occupy Wall Street”
At his first press conference after the start of OWS on September 17th, President Obama presented one of his typical straw men as he stoked the burning embers of the movement by empathizing with their “frustration.” In response to a question about OWS, he said that “You’ve got Republican presidential candidates whose main economic policy proposals is (sic), ‘we’ll get rid of the financial reforms that are designed to prevent the abuses that got us into this mess in the first place.’ That does not make sense to the American people. They are frustrated by it. And they will continue to be frustrated by it until they get a sense that everybody is playing by the same set of rules, and that you’re rewarded for responsibility and doing the right thing as opposed to gaming the system.”
Tea Party Vs. Occupy Wall Street
Polls that came out in late October showed that support for OWS from the White House, and a lot of sympathetic reporting by the mainstream media, had strongly impacted public opinion. A Pew Research Center/Washington Post survey in late October claimed that 39% of all Americans support the Occupy Wall Street movement, while only 32% support the Tea Party. A Time magazine survey showed the OWS movement more popular by a margin of two to one.
This is a reflection of the problem with polling. Exactly who is polled and the questions that are asked can easily skew the results. How each movement is portrayed by the media also significantly impacts poll results. If the actual goals and actions of both movements were accurately described to a genuine cross-section of the American public, the results would surely be different.
As Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) pointed out in an editorial, the Tea Party supports “limited government, lower taxes, a balanced budget, less onerous regulations and greater fealty to the Constitution.” They said that this is consistent with a CNN poll taken during the debt ceiling debate that two-thirds favored passing a balanced budget amendment in exchange for raising the debt limit.
“In contrast,” they said, “the OWS crowd, to the extent that they’ve said what they’re for, are anti-capitalist extremists, with views that few Americans would support if they knew about them—nationalized health care, outlawing capital punishment, forgiving all student debt, a massive hike in the minimum wage, etc.”
They cited Douglas Schoen, a pollster for President Clinton, who surveyed some of the OWS demonstrators and found that they were “dangerously out of touch with the broad mass of the American people.” He said they “have a distinct ideology and are bound by a deep commitment to radical left-wing policies,” and that nearly a third of them said they would support violence to achieve their goals.
In addition, the editorial pointed out that “for the past two years, the liberal press has gone out of its way to cast the Tea Party movement as full of racist, extremist, hate-mongers at best, and domestic terrorists at worst. As MSNBC’s Chris Matthews put it: ‘The Tea Party is based on hatred—hatred of government, hatred of the Democrats, hatred of Barack Obama.’” This has been the tone of the reporting.
Meanwhile, there has been almost no coverage of OWS that shows the extremist elements in the movement, including the widespread anti-Semitism among the crowd. There are many examples of signs, speeches and comments that reflect these bigoted, hate-filled sentiments. The media have also avoided showing the flag desecrations and the defecating on police cars, and have barely mentioned the amount of crime that has taken place, including a significant number of rapes. Coverage of some of this would dramatically affect those poll numbers.
Journalists Cross Line into Activism
There have also been many who have crossed the line between journalism and activism in support of OWS. For example, Natasha Lennard, a New York Times freelance reporter was videotaped offering advice to other radicals during an OWS panel on how to keep their identities secret. The video can be seen on BigGovernment.com, one of Andrew Breitbart’s many excellent websites. Lennard was one of the hundreds who was arrested for shutting down the Brooklyn Bridge during the early weeks of the movement.
Another IBD editorial explains the problem with this sort of blurring of the lines: “So why shouldn’t reporters engage in activism on subjects they cover? They cheat readers by misrepresenting themselves as impartial observers.”
The editorial goes on to explain, “Their conflicts of interest mean they can slant the news, omit facts, and advance hidden agendas. Lennard with a Times byline is indistinguishable to the reader from Times reporters such as John Burns, whose Iraq coverage was impartial, deep and impressive.”
They also cited NPR’s Lisa Simeone, “who served as spokeswoman for Occupy Washington protests,” among others.
Another issue I discussed with Tim Groseclose about his book, Left Turn, was that it is difficult to measure bias by omission. For example, the prime time lineup on MSNBC went months without acknowledging the Solyndra scandal that has been widely covered in the conservative media. But the mainstream liberal media treat Solyndra as a partisan political issue, when they do get around to covering it. The facts that have emerged reveal the Obama White House and his Department of Energy have been backing loans and other subsidies to the tune of more than a half a billion dollars to Solyndra, whose largest financial backer, George Kaiser, has been a major financial backer of Obama. These loans occurred even though there had been substantive warnings that should have made it clear that the company was destined for failure. This goes against the media narrative that Obama operates on a higher ethical plane than previous scandal plagued politicians.
All in all, Groseclose’s book is a valuable contribution to understanding and measuring the degree to which media bias shapes public perceptions.
Below, in italics, are excerpts from the interview. You can listen to the entire interview or read the transcript here .
Excerpts From Groseclose Interview
Maybe the most influential person in this whole thing has been Steve Levitt, the author of Freakonomics. He’s been a good friend of mine since 1994, and I’ve watched him. Unlike most academics, he’ll take these questions that really interest laypersons, something that a layperson would say, “I’d like to know the answer to that question.” and he’ll tackle it.
To make sure that that little bit of subjectivity wouldn’t creep in, when we hired research assistants to code this data, we made sure that we had almost a perfect mix of conservatives and liberals. I actually asked them, before we hired them, “Who’d you vote for last election?” For our data, we had about half of it coded by Bush supporters, half of it coded by Gore or Kerry supporters.
I’d say that Accuracy in Media, Media Research Center, those are two excellent organizations. One thing that both of you do that I really appreciate is, often you’ll point out the things they’re not reporting. I think that’s a lot of where the bias is: They’ll say, “Here are these stories that the mainstream media is overlooking,” and it’s often these sins of omission, rather than commission, that the bias comes from. I have to say, even if we have both sides doing it, I think one great service that you guys do is, you at least alert people of it.
What would you say about these groups, such as AIM, who point out this bias? If these groups could make people perfectly aware of [the bias], and make voters more skeptical of the media—whenever you read something, always be on guard, maybe they’re not telling us something—and very rational when they read newspapers and when they watch television, this would allow them to discount the bias much better, and that would have the same effect as eliminating the bias. So if you guys could be perfect at your job and make everyone skeptical and rational, then that would have the same effect: It would make America change from kind of a purple nation to, all of a sudden, voting and thinking something like Texas or Kentucky.
Here’s something interesting—Joe Biden, during a speech, was asked about Van Jones. Apparently Van Jones is trying to get these Wall Street protestors to start a revolution or something. This guy’s a self-avowed Communist. But Joe Biden, he said, “I don’t even know who Van Jones is.” Well, he was the “green jobs” czar in the Obama administration.
Well, it turns out, before Van Jones resigned—now this was in the middle of the night, one Saturday night, I think they did this purposely, to keep it out of the media, or downplay it—during that week, members of Congress had started saying, “What is this guy doing in the Obama administration?” Some were calling on him to resign. There was not one word of this during that prior week, not one word from The New York Times. So, if that’s where you got your news, The New York Times, you would not have known who Van Jones was when he finally had this dramatic resignation.
The Jayson Blairs of the world—you know, the fabricator at The New York Times—these guys, I think, are just few and far between. When they are caught, it’s dramatic, they’re fired, and their careers are ruined. So they’re not doing much lying. But, as I said, it’s what they don’t report. One, as you said, is that they’re not getting the perspectives, the quotes from experts, on the conservative side as much as a fair and balanced reporter would. Another thing that I want to point out: It’s the stories that they select.
While I’ve been promoting this book, I don’t think there’s been one news outlet with a slant quotient to the left of 50 that’s even mentioned my book. I’ve been on Fox News several times, been on several talk radio stations, several Internet outlets like the Daily Caller and PJTV, but have not seen like—The Los Angeles Times, here they have a professor in their backyard, he’s written this book that’s gaining some traction, but they haven’t mentioned one word about it. The New York Times will not review this book. Now, I kind of knew this would happen. But when I was writing the book, I have a literary agent, and she told me, “Yeah, you’re not going to get reviewed in The New York Times. But,” she said, “look, there’s all these new outlets out there, you know. A lot of them are web-based things like The Washington Times. There is a market for this, and because of this, conservative books are actually selling.”
I think our universities are at least as bad as the media in terms of being dominated by liberals, and, I think, maybe at least as bad in having a strong influence. I see it in kids: They come here conservative, but it’s very hard for them to stick to their values after four years of this kind of distortionary influence from their professors.
One thing that I find in my book is that this bias has a strong effect. By my estimates, the liberal bias of the media, as you mentioned earlier, has shifted the Political Quotient of the average U.S. voter by about twenty or 25 points. Now here’s what that means substantively: That’s about the difference between the average purple state voter—say, a voter in Iowa or Nevada—and the average red state voter, like a voter in Texas or Kentucky. I’d say that’s a qualitative difference, the difference between the average Iowa voter and the difference between the average Texas voter. That’s the effect of media bias. Now, what would you say about these groups, such as AIM, who point out this bias? If these groups could make people perfectly aware of [the bias], and make voters more skeptical of the media—whenever you read something, always be on guard, maybe they’re not telling us something—and very rational when they read newspapers and when they watch television, this would allow them to discount the bias much better, and that would have the same effect as eliminating the bias. So if you guys could be perfect at your job and make everyone skeptical and rational, then that would have the same effect: It would make America change from kind of a purple nation to, all of a sudden, voting and thinking something like Texas or Kentucky.
I’d like to think that because I wrote the book I have actually given more news stories for these conservative outlets, and even people like the Tea Party. Here’s something to think about: Often, when conservatives protest something, the mainstream media doesn’t want to cover those protests. So if you’re a conservative protester, you think, Do I really want to waste my time going out and doing this protest when no one’s going to cover it? Well, if all the sudden there is a Fox News, and there is a talk radio, you might actually do the protest where you might not have otherwise. I wonder if this Tea Party movement might not have happened if we didn’t have Fox News and talk radio. So meanwhile, because of movements like the Tea Party, and people like myself who will write these conservative books, all of a sudden there’s more material for Fox News and talk radio to cover. So you can kind of see how this builds on itself, and it makes Fox News have more interesting stories, which, maybe, allow them to have more viewers and listeners…So I hope this will happen, this kind of feed-on-itself notion. It could really help things, help the conservative movement and the conservative news outlets.•
Dear Fellow Media Watchdogs:
With one year to go before the presidential election, the media’s effort to get Barack Obama re-elected is in full swing. We see this in both overt and subtle ways.
In general, the media are spending an inordinate amount of time attempting to belittle the entire Republican field and foster negative attitudes toward any of the candidates who appear to have a chance of winning the nomination. The other part of the effort is coverage of the Obama administration, which has been up to its neck in various scandals that get little to no coverage. And when the media do cover them, they are treated more as political controversies ginned up by racist or hypocritical Republicans. A perfect example is the scandal surrounding Operation Fast and Furious, which was covered in the last AIM Report. Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, has called for a special counsel to look into the matter, since Attorney General Eric Holder appears to be stonewalling and lying about when he became aware of the program supposedly intended to track weapons from the U.S. to members of Mexican drug cartels. As of this writing, 17 Republican members of Congress have called on Holder to resign over this issue.
Another scandal the media don’t want to talk about is Solyndra, the solar power company that received more than half a billion dollars from the American taxpayers. Just one month after assuring members of both parties of Congress that it was financially sound, the company declared bankruptcy. In this case, as in other similar failed ventures, the company was controlled financially by a major Obama supporter.
Obama has gone around the country proudly announcing that he is bypassing Congress to implement certain programs, such as the home mortgage and student loan plans. This is portrayed in the media as heroic and necessary in the face of an intransigent Congress, rather than as imperial and without regard for our system of co-equal branches of government.
And perhaps the best recent example of this pervasive favoritism for President Obama came from the mouth of MSNBC’s Chuck Todd, who inadvertently spoke the truth, often called a gaffe in Washington. It was during an evening news broadcast on sister network NBC in September. Todd was referring to poll numbers that were looking bad for President Obama’s re-election chances, Todd said the following: “Our pollsters are concerned that’s [the] kind of numbers you have when the public starts to give up on a president as a problem solver.” Why are they concerned for the President? Because they want him to win.•
For Accuracy in Media Roger Aronoff