Deception & Misdirection

Understand Media Bias with Facts

“The Kansas City Star’s editorial board is just like all the radical left. If you disagree with them, you are a racist.” This is a published letter to the editor from one of the Star’s angrier readers. The notion that the media is unfairly biased toward the Left may seem obvious in conservative circles, but according to a 2017 Gallup poll, only 64 percent of Americans believe this to be accurate. Subjective arguments could go back and forth on this question indefinitely. Luckily, Dr. Tim Groseclose, a political economist at George Mason University, wrote Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, a book in which he seeks to statistically and objectively evaluate the bias of the national media.

In his book, Dr. Groseclose pursues two scientific measures to gauge the level of bias prevalent in the media. The first of which is the Political Quotient (P.Q.) based on the degree to which you agree on different policy questions. After answering multiple questions, a number on a scale of 0-100 is assigned the person. (The higher the P.Q. number the more liberal the person is.) The next measure Groseclose discusses is a Slant Quotient (S.Q.), which is a P.Q. for mass media outlets based on citations used from politicians and think tanks.

Groseclose finds that the average American voter holds a P.Q. number of 50.4, which represents a political centrist. When taking all national media into account, including talk shows and local newspapers, the average media S.Q. is a 58.5, or 8.1 points more liberal than the average American. Additionally, his research method finds that the S.Q. for major national news outlets such as the New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today, falls around the high 60s.

But does this media slant really affect American’s political views? Well, according to Dr. Groseclose, it does to a high degree. After conducting three experiments, he finds that about 70 percent of the average person’s political views depend on the media that they read. Given this fact, Groseclose calculated how voters’ views would differ if the average media S.Q. (58.5) matched the average voters P.Q. (50.4) to be closer to the center. After running the data, he found that America’s populace would be much more right-leaning, with a projected average P.Q. of 31.5, that of the average Texan.

Of course, the bias of the publications has much to do with the political inclinations of reporters and newsroom staff. In 2016, only 9.23 percent of voters in San Francisco, one of the bluest areas in California, cast a ballot for the Republican presidential candidate, Donald Trump, while a whopping 84.47 percent of voters showed support for the Democratic candidate, Hillary Clinton. Even though one of the most liberal cities in the nation, the voters in San Francisco are still not as politically slanted as media correspondents in Washington, D.C., according to Dr. Groseclose. He reports that about 93 percent of Washington correspondents will say that they voted for the Democratic candidate in the previous election.

So why is the media so left leaning? Simply, it is because those who pursue a career in journalism tend to be more liberal. The pool of conservative reporters and journalists is much smaller, thus making it more difficult for news outlets to maintain a balanced group of opinions in the newsroom. Groseclose weighs in on this issue in an interview saying, “A manager or owner of a media outlet could try to counteract this by trying to hire more conservatives, but he’ll either have to pay conservative journalists more or be willing to hire conservative journalists who are not as good at reporting as liberal journalists.”

Non-profits and think tanks feed into this media bias as well. The Center for American Progress Action Fund, the lobbying arm of Democratic establishment-aligned think tank, Center for American Progress (CAP), manages ThinkProgress, a left-of-center media outlet. CAP Action puts $5.1 million toward “communications” according to their 2016 tax returns which includes ThinkProgress. Left-of-center non-profits and even some labor unions allocate large amounts of money to help run this media outlet, which obviously presents a slanted bias.

Conservative think tanks do it too. The Heritage Foundation, one of the largest conservative think tanks in Washington, publishes the Daily Signal. And the Media Research Center, a right-leaning group that is focused on eliminating media bias, has its own right-of-center outlet, Cybercast News Service.

These targeted media sources highlight the issue of self-selection bias, especially when readers choose to read only positions with which they agree. Because they are funded by ideologically aligned donors and don’t have to turn a profit, these platforms account for significant web traffic, creeping in on traditional media and providing more gratifying coverage than watching the more neutral CSPAN coverage of congressional politics.

Regardless of all the data that can be piled up on how the media is predominantly liberal, it is important that Americans stay informed and up-to-date on current events. Unfortunately, any media, no matter what side of the political spectrum it falls on, can distort stories and spin them to fit their agenda. Groseclose provides an example of this with the Bush tax cuts in the early 2000s. He explains that each side had one fact that they wanted to push in the media, the liberals wanted to emphasize that the rich would receive a disproportionate share of tax cuts, while the conservatives wanted to stress that the rich would pay a higher percentage of income taxes than before. While neither side was necessarily wrong, they both only presented the details that they wanted the public to hear.

The advent of the internet means that some articles and stories include patently false statements and inaccurate claims. This means citizens must be vigilant as they consume media. It is never a bad idea to be cautiously skeptical and seek other references to back up headlines that do not seem to tell the whole truth. The liberal bias is present and there is a science to prove it; now it is important to address these findings.