Marquette Warrior: New Academic Media Bias Study

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

New Academic Media Bias Study

Not that there has been any doubt about this for a long time, but a new academic study from a UCLA political scientist and a University of Missouri economist shows a clear liberal political bias in the media.

Tim Groseclose (UCLA) and Jeff Milyo (Missouri) used an innovative technique that took advantage of the fact that liberal members of Congress (as measured by their votes on roll-calls) tend to cite certain activist groups, think tanks and research institutes, while conservatives disproportionately cite different ones. Where liberals are particularly likely to cite (for example) the NAACP and the Childrens’ Defense Fund conservatives are more likely to cite the Manhattan Institute or the Heritage Foundation.

So what about the sources the media cite? Do they more frequently cite the same sources as congressional liberals, or congressional conservatives? Quoting the study:
Our results show a strong liberal bias. All of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report and the Washington Times received a score to the left of the average member of Congress. Consistent with many conservative critics, CBS Evening News and the New York Times received a score far left of center. Outlets such as USA Today, NPR’s Morning Edition, NBC’s Nightly News and ABC’s World News Tonight were moderately left. The most centrist outlets (but still left-leaning) by our measure were the Newshour with Jim Lehrer, CNN’s NewsNight with Aaron Brown, and ABC’s Good Morning America. Fox News’ Special Report, while right of center, was closer to the center than any of the three major networks’ evening news broadcasts.
They then go on to explain:
All of our findings refer strictly to the news stories of the outlets. That is, we omitted editorials, book reviews, and letters to the editor from our sample.
Of course, opinion and editorial pieces might show a different result. For example, the study shows the Wall Street Journal to be quite liberal, in spite of having a famously conservative editorial page.

But bias in what purports to be “hard news” is more striking since it is a clear violation of proclaimed journalistic norms of objectivity. And it’s doubtless more insidious, since readers and viewers fully expect editorials and opinion columns to be . . . well . . . opinionated.

When one of the authors presented the paper at a faculty forum that included some members of the Journalism Department, the latter were visibly squirming.


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