Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Left Turn by Tim Groseclose

The mainstream media is biased to the left. This is not shocking or even an especially new revelation. Yet Professor Tim Groseclose of UCLA has gone even further and done an extensive, peer-reviewed and verified study proving the extent of the bias and more importantly, the effect. His book Left Turn is a must read for anyone who doubts the veracity of the claim.

The first part of the book details his credentials and methodology. He make a compelling case for his research and five years in, has yet to sustain a serious critique. His particular study gave politicians a Political Quotient, PQ, which rates them from 0 - 100 with 100 being the most liberal. They range from Jim DeMint with a 4.8 to Nancy Pelosi with a 100. Some even extend beyond in either direction. Then he rates media outlets based on how often they cite conservative or liberal think tanks for their experts and facts and gives them a Slant Quotient (SQ). In this way, the New York Times (74) can be directly compared to the liberal slant of Joe Lieberman (74.7). After surveying 20 news outlets, he found an average bias of over 58. 

He compared his study to another that used a different methodology. That study compared certain phrases which tended to be used by conservatives to phrases which are associated with liberal groups. The two studies complemented and reinforced each other. 

Finally, at the behest of some coworkers, he decided to try a much narrower study. He found that in the debate over the Bush tax cuts, some of the facts supported the liberal position and some the conservative. He studied news outlets for which set of facts they emphasized. Just as in the other two studies, he found a strong liberal bias.

However, he was stuck with the question of Does it matter? Does the bias actually change political behavior? He began with the opinion that it did not. He believed enough people knew their source of news carried a liberal bias and discounted it.

Yet some studies piqued his interest. One involved studying markets into which Fox News entered and comparing before and after political behavior. The study found Republicans experienced a .43 percent uptick. The other study involved dividing 600 people into two random groups and sending one The Washington Times and the other The Post. After being exposed to the liberal and conservative leaning papers, the authors found a 3.8 percent impact. Finally one study on game theory showed that even when the subject KNEW they were being manipulated, they still failed to figure out the truth and offered an opinion closer to the one desired. 

These, combined with anecdotal evidence suggested that media bias did indeed have an effect. But how much? Again, after going deep into his methodology, he arrives at what he believes is a low estimate of 70%. In other words, our political opinions are guided 30% by what we would naturally believe and 70% based on the news bias. 

This is HUGE. In fact, he convincingly postulates that without media bias, if Americans were left to make up their own minds, the nation would have a PQ of approximately 25! We would rate between Ron Paul (31) and Jack Kemp (20) as a nation. Unbelievable. The whole country would look like Kansas (24) or Texas (27). Republicans would add 8 - 10 points in national elections. 

I can’t get into all the specifics of his methodology. Suffice it to say it is clear and convincing and frustrating. To know that our country could rise like a Phoenix and regain our exceptionalism if only people were not manipulated by the media is such a tantalizing possibility. Yet, we are manipulated. Daily. 

He ends with a plea for journalists (whom he lost respect for in the course of the study) to become more like politicians (whom he gained respect for). He begs journalists to spend time in a city or area with a PQ of 25. Get to know those religious people who own guns and cry at the Star Spangled Banner. We exist. We are not the stuff of mythology and backwater hell holes. In addition, the media should discover their own personal PQs and advertise it. We know where every politician stands on the issues when they declare their positions and party affiliations. We should expect no less of those that give us the facts we need to be an informed citizenry. 

Sigh. I wish. They never will. Why would they? Their carefully preserved and created mythologies would crumble and liberalism would die on the vine. 

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