A recent study in the Journal of Media Economics (“Framing the Right Suspects: Measuring Media Bias”) found evidence of media bias against conservative think tanks.
Wayne R. Dunham, a research economist in the antitrust division of the U.S. Department of Justice, looked at ideological bias in six large daily newspapers and the Associated Press and found that they “are three to six times more likely to associate ideological labels (or frames) with organizations (think tanks) with a conservative orientation than think tanks having a liberal orientation. This tends to frame the analyses done by conservative think tanks as less objective than the analysis done by liberal think tanks.”
The results of this study doubtless come as no surprise to, say, researchers at the Heritage Foundation or other Washington, D.C.-based think tanks. But neither did they come as a surprise to those of us at the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs (OCPA), one of the nation’s many state-based think tanks. The Associated Press routinely, and accurately, refers to OCPA as “a conservative think tank” (see, for example, here, here, here, here, and here). Yet once again this week the AP referred to the state’s liberal think tank simply as “a Tulsa-based think tank.” (The Journal Record did the same thing.)
On the bright side, the AP’s geographic modifier is actually an improvement over past descriptions of Oklahoma’s liberal think tank, such as “a research group that studies state policy issues” and, incredibly, “a Tulsa-based think tank that promotes fair funding for state services.” So perhaps evenhandedness is on the horizon.
Let’s hope so. Gallup tells us that fewer than 1 in 4 Americans rate reporters highly in terms of honesty and ethical standards. A little fairness might help bump those numbers up.