Declining Democratic media advantage?

If more hackery favors Republicans, does that show the bias of the media, or of the facts?

Megan McArdle suggests that changes in the news business – away from financial structures encouraging “hard news” intended to be objective and toward more explicitly partisan media – might change what she sees as a Democratic advantage in media coverage. This advantage she attributes to “liberal media bias” as measured – predictably – by Tim Groseclose, whose methods are so obscure (and, I would add, grossly tendentious) that Megan doesn’t even try to describe them. What Groseclose does not do is attempt to investigate the actual truth or falsity of various claims; instead he merely assumes, implicitly, that liberal and conservative politicians tell the truth with identical frequency and that if claims made by liberals survive media scrutiny better than claims made by conservatives, that proves that the media (rather than the facts) are biased. The same methods would prove a media bias toward neuroscience compared to phrenology.

I think Megan’s analysis of the changes in progress is plausible: we’re going back to an era where outlets have well-marked ideological, and even partisan, labels. It’s possible that the result will be to benefit the Republicans, though Fox News’s declining share of the youth market raises questions about that, and the specific structure of the conservative media market might well contribute, not to Republican victories, but to the spiraling insanity of the GOP, turning off swing voters and electing more Democrats. (Hurrah!)

But as a matter of pure social science, the construct “liberal media bias” has zero independent explanatory power in Megan’s analysis, compared to the alternative construct “reporting.” Saying, “Changes in the incentives of media outlets leading to less reporting and more dishonest partisan hackery will tend to reduce the advantage the Democrats now enjoy” makes exactly the same prediction, while reducing the number of postulated entities by one.

Megan, may I introduce my friend Brother William?

Update More on Groseclose’s alleged methods from Paul Waldman. And Max Boot provides a current illustration.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact:

31 thoughts on “Declining Democratic media advantage?”

  1. On the coming conniptions in the Murdoch dynasty: while Rupert is 82, Roger Ailes is 73, visibly overweight, and a haemophiliac. I don´t suppose either are much troubled by life insurance salesmen.

  2. I happen to have been a press secretary to the mayor of medium-size city in the Midwest during Watergate. Other than having taken one journalism class in college, I had no previous experience in the news biz and no previous exposure to how reporters do their jobs and no context for making a judgment about who was good at it and who wasn’t. What I observed during the Watergate era was that a few “reporters” became “journalists” — they stopped printing or broadcasting word for word whatever we distributed to them and started asking questions, piecing together bits and pieces from multiple sources, and, in the end, producing information unlike anything the public had seen before that. I would say that today’s media workers are primarily “reporters,” not journalists, and they like to think politics is about elections and ONLY about elections; they fail, in other words, to investigate the politics of governing. They do this, because covering elections is easy; campaign consultants are quite good at telling their candidates’ stories and making up lies about their opponents, and they spoon-feed everything they come up with to “the media,” knowing it will vary little, if at all, from what they themselves produced. Campaign ads are even run for free on so-called newscasts. My point is that covering the politics of governing is hard, and the people who care whether the media get it right need to put some effort into educating educable journalists.

  3. “and that if claims made by liberals survive media scrutiny better than claims made by conservatives, that proves that the media (rather than the facts) are biased.”

    If the media were anything like a balanced 50-50 mix of liberals and conservatives, this would be a dubious assumption. Given that almost all media outlets are completely dominated by liberals, it has a certain plausibility.

    But I will grant, “The media agree with Democrats because they ARE Democrats”, and “The media agree with Democrats because Democrats are always right, and it’s just coincidence the media are Democrats” do lead to the same observable consequence: The media always coming down on the side of the Democratic party.

    1. Or is it barely possible that a political position based mostly on lies naturally repels reporters? Just asking.

      Note that your hypothesis relies on either coincidence or some special mechanism to generate “liberal bias” among reporters, while mine makes no such demand. Okham again.

      1. The “special mechanism” that generates liberal bias among reporters is reality, which has well-known biases of its own.

    2. You confuse a certain social liberalism (most in the media profession drink, live in cities, work with people who are gay and so are generally at least tolerant if not supportive of gay rights) with a general liberalism.
      The media as a whole overwhelmingly treats stories of drug legalization as a joke (or an excuse to make stoner jokes), supports lower taxes on the rich (primarily themselves and their parent corporations), support corporations in general, oppose regulation of corporations, don’t report on poverty / the marginalized other than as potential criminals, and support aggressive foreign military action (see: Iraq).
      Elite, as in living in New York, wearing stylish clothes, and going to nice restaurants, does not mean “leftist.” The dumb and beautiful put on to read the teleprompter do not bite the hand that feeds…

        1. Perhaps that should tell you something about the reality of the modern Democratic Party as opposed to the caricature that exists only in the minds of those enclosed in the right-wing bubble.

  4. Slightly OT, but for some grim amusement, go read McMegan’s recent Bloomberg post, “Extended Unemployment Benefits Make Sense,” an obvious, if way-too-late point that she treats as a wacky, counterintuitive revelation, then read the comments. Outrage! Because, freedom.

    1. I’ve been advocating for extending unemployment benefits consistently throughout the recession, so I hardly see how this is “way too late”

  5. Given that almost all media outlets are completely dominated by liberals….

    You need to get out more. Perhaps start with regular reading of The Washington Post. You might find that your views need updating.

    1. Seconded. Although to give Brett credit, few WaPo people explicitly called for killing every muslim in the world (I’m not sure about Krauthammer), so Brett places them in the liberal camp.

        1. Bull. Take the Iraq War, and look at the number of WaPo columnists pro and against. It isn’t ‘almost’; it’s closer to ‘token anti-war liberal’.

        2. Hang on. So I could paraphrase you as saying that The Washington Post is one of the few media outlets not completely dominated by liberals? This is taking an interesting turn. So among big-city dailies, say, you have the New York and Washington Posts (and I suppose the Washington Moonie paper) on the not-dominated-by-liberals side of the fence, and all of the others on the completely-dominated-by-liberals side? Is this one of those paradigm shifts Thomas Kuhn was on about?

          1. The Herrenvolkswagen of modern conservatism has excellent steering: it will turn on a paradigm.

  6. Mark, I’m amazed – even a gentle rebuke to Megan. What did she do?

    With Brett, years of lying and general dishonesty didn’t work, until he stepped directly on one of your sore spot (voter suppression). So we know that Megan’s long record of lying isn’t the cause.

    1. Barry, some day perhaps you’ll learn the difference between disagreement and disagreeableness. I have defended McArdle against vicious personal attack, and brought what I thought were her good ideas to the attention of my readers, even though she and I strongly disagree on a wide range of issues. The insanity which currently plagues the Red Team makes it more rather than less important to maintain civil engagement across factional lines where such engagement is possible.

      1. “Barry, some day perhaps you’ll learn the difference between disagreement and disagreeableness.”

        You know better:

        “I have defended McArdle against vicious personal attack,.. ”

        You defended her against accurate attacks for her vicious writing (remember ‘2×4’?). You also defended her against accurate attacks for her very long oh-so-politically convenient list of ‘errors’, even while berating drug legalization advocates for not being honest.

  7. “Changes in the incentives of media outlets leading to less reporting and more dishonest partisan hackery will tend to reduce the advantage the Democrats now enjoy.” Where is this quote from? Mark provides no link. I have looked at McCardle’s Aug. 20 article, and it is not there.

      1. Not a “stronger” claim in the technical sense. A claim that covers the same empirical ground with one fewer hypothesis.

        1. I agree. And Mark clearly wasn’t quoting her (although to be honest, I’ve frequently been guilty of poor reading comprehension).

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