Whose Media is More Biased?

April 28th, 2011 at 12:58 pm | 34 Comments |

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Tyler Cowen points to an article by Riccardo Puglisi on The New York Times and media bias. Puglisi writes:

Controlling for the activity of the incumbent president and the U.S. Congress across issues, I find that during a presidential campaign, The New York Times gives more emphasis to topics on which the Democratic party is perceived as more competent (civil rights, health care, labor and social welfare) when the incumbent president is a Republican. This is consistent with the hypothesis that The New York Times has a Democratic partisanship, with some “anti-incumbent” aspects . . . consistent with The New York Times departing from demand-driven news coverage.

I haven’t read the article in question but the claim seems plausible to me.  I’ve often thought there is an asymmetry in media bias, with Democratic reporters–a survey a few years ago found that twice as many journalists identify as Democrats than as Republicans–biasing their reporting by choosing which topics to focus on, and Republican news organizations (notably Fox News and other Murdoch organizations) biasing in the other direction by flat-out attacks.

I’ve never been clear on which sort of bias is more effective.  On one hand, Fox can create a media buzz out of nothing at all; on the other hand, perhaps there’s something more insidious about objective news organizations indirectly creating bias by their choice of what to report.

But I’ve long thought that this asymmetry should inform how media bias is studied.  It can’t be a simple matter of counting stories or references to experts and saying that Fox is more biased or the Washington Post is more biased or whatever.  Some of the previous studies in this area are interesting but to me don’t get at either of the fundamental sorts of bias mentioned above.  You have to look for bias in different ways to capture these multiple dimensions.   Based on the abstract quoted above, Puglisi may be on to something, maybe this could be a useful start to getting to the big picture.


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34 Comments so far ↓

  • tommybones

    Of course! The corporate mainstream media are a bunch of liberals who stand up for the little guy against corporate interests! Makes perfect sense!

    Edward Herman, one of the foremost experts on media propaganda adds:

    “The electoral process would not work in this highly undemocratic fashion without the full cooperation of the mainstream media in allowing financial support to define credibility and determine coverage, as the New York Times does in contradiction with its editorial admonitions on the importance of have competition based on substance other than money support. The media do this because they are part of the same corporate community as the election investor-funders: their owners are rich, their advertisers have strong pro-business political interests, their leading sources are members of the government, the flak they worry about is from powerful people and the right wing, and they work on the basis of establishment ideology. Their editors, having internalized all of these considerations, gravitate to allowing money flows to dominate, with a focus on the horse-race, and, importantly eschewing tendencies toward ‘populism,’ which is generally anathema to the investor community.”

    This farce is clearly seen in the “Democrat” vs. “Republican” debates, which implies that the two are not in fact the same business party, with common goals (imperialist power and corporate control for profit for the wealthy elite) and only slightly varying strategies and tactics for achieving those goals. The Democrats believe it’s a smarter move to let some crumbs fall to the masses to keep them complacent, while the GOP believes you don’t have to give any crumbs away when a truly strong propaganda campaign can fool the “bewildered herd” easily enough.

    Anyone who thinks the mainstream media is “liberal” is a fool or a liar.

    Right wing billionaires own the majority of the mainstream corporate media outlets, including the NY Times. They get their funding, through advertising, from billion dollar corporations owned by similar right-wingers. They hire right wing editors and producers who control content. Then they hire “liberal” reporters who are emasculated as soon as they walk through the door and have no real power as to what their assignments are or what gets published.

    Predictably, conservative think tanks (of which there are many) and right wing pundits (of which there are even more) like Rush Limbaugh, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity, to name but a few, love to point out the “liberal” reporters as their “proof” of a “liberal media” conspiracy; completely ignoring the right wing ideologues who ultimately pull the strings (and pay their exorbitant salaries).

    In other words, what fools consider “liberal” coverage in the mainstream media is anything to the left of the FAR RIGHT GOP agenda.

  • Rob_654

    Between television, newspapers, magazines, the internet, the radio, etc… anyone can find anything they want to support their “bias” and anything they want to support their “beliefs”.

    Another great thing that all of this selection gives everyone is the ability to get their news from more than a single source so that you can get a well rounded diet of news.

    Is Foxnews biased? Of course it is and doubly so if you’re a liberal.
    Is MNSBC biased? Yes, and doubly so if you are a Conservative.

    Are some newspapers biased – of course and the more you don’t agree with them the more biased they appear to be.

    The real story, IMHO, is how alike US news coverage is regardless of the source – if you watch just a little bit of the CBC, BBC, etc… you start to realize just how narrow in scope the news is that is presented to Americans and the only difference is a bit of bias in one direction or the other.

  • TerryF98

    Fox is not a news organization it is a propaganda organization.

    You admit that is the case here.

    “On one hand, Fox can create a media buzz out of nothing at all;”

    Nothing at all =lies and propaganda.

  • EPeevie

    Re: “topics on which the Democratic party is perceived as more competent”–perceived by whom? My conservative friends perceive the Republican party to be more competent on health care, labor and social welfare.

  • tommybones

    False equivalency Alert!!!!!

    “Is Foxnews biased? Of course it is and doubly so if you’re a liberal.
    Is MNSBC biased? Yes, and doubly so if you are a Conservative.”

    • balconesfault

      Exactly. When Fox News gives a 3 hour daily time slot to Alan Grayson each morning, we can start to talk about some kind of equivalence between them and MSNBC.

  • ottovbvs

    Really does anyone take “Research” like this seriously. It seems to me you can produce any answer you want based on something as subjective as this. Did the researcher do a comp (WSJ?, Chicago Tribune? LA Times? Washington Post?)

  • elizajane

    Magical balance fairy is here in spades.

    Making up complete garbage and then commenting on it as if it were “news” is NOT the same as choosing which actual, true things you will put on your front page and which will get smaller articles in other sections of the paper.

    The Times is not covering economics and business enough for Republicans? For God’s sake, man, “Fox Business” had Pamela Geller on last night to discuss whether Obama’s birth certificate had been photoshopped! Should that count as good Republican coverage of economic issues, on a business program?

  • Nanotek

    “Controlling for the activity of the incumbent president and the U.S. Congress across issues, I find that during a presidential campaign, The New York Times gives more emphasis to topics on which the Democratic party is perceived as more competent (civil rights, health care, labor and social welfare) when the incumbent president is a Republican. This is consistent with the hypothesis that The New York Times has a Democratic partisanship, with some “anti-incumbent” aspects . . . consistent with The New York Times departing from demand-driven news coverage.

    your hypothesis is noted: (1) what is your evidence? (2) if true, then your articles must be equally biased — should it be discounted on that basis?

  • Slide

    Gotta love this sentence: “I haven’t read the article in question but the claim seems plausible to me.”

    Seems a little biased to me.

    Bias is one thing and propaganda is another. Can one make the argument that many journalists are more pre-disposed to be on the liberal side of things? Sure. Just like cops might be pre-disposed to be on the conservative side of things. Their political leanings have an impact on the types of jobs that they seek. That doesn’t mean that cops make false arrests all the time does it? We shouldn’t castigate police officers nor should we journalists.

    So, the background of a journalist might make him view an event with a certain “bias”. We can only filter things from our own perspective. That is unfortunate and perhaps it happens more often then we care to admit. That is far far different than purposely skewing the news, like Fox does, for partisan reasons.

    If anyone doubts this all you have to do is read some of the leaked Fox Memos. (link at bottom) They show an organization that is actively trying to shape the news for political reasons. Show me similar manipulation by the NY Times editors if you can Again, they may be biased due to their background and political leanings but that is not the same as being the disingenuous lying sacks of shit over at Fox.

    http://mediamatters.org/research/200407140002

  • LFC

    I’m with Terry and Slide on this one. Pure fabrication, creating news on one program and “reporting” on it on another (with no mention of the source), and being sent daily orders from the Bush White House is not bias, it’s propaganda. As somebody was quoted as saying in the Bush Administration, “we create our own reality.”

  • balconesfault

    It helps if you don’t ellipse the abstract quote:

    I analyse a dataset of news from The New York Times, from 1946 to 1997. Controlling for the activity of the incumbent president and the U.S. Congress across issues, I find that during a presidential campaign, The New York Times gives more emphasis to topics on which the Democratic party is perceived as more competent (civil rights, health care, labor and social welfare) when the incumbent president is a Republican. This is consistent with the hypothesis that The New York Times has a Democratic partisanship, with some “anti-incumbent” aspects, in that—during a presidential campaign—it gives more emphasis to issues over which the (Republican) incumbent is weak.

    Ummm … in other words … when a Democrat is President, the media doesn’t focus on issues where the Democratic President is perceived as more competent during the election.

    Wouldn’t that lack of coverage of key Democratic issues represent an anti-Democratic bias?

    So, for example, if when a Dem is incumbent the media suddenly starts focusing tax rates and military policy instead of the social policies where the Dem is perceived as stronger … wouldn’t that represent a Pro-GOP bias?

    The problem is that the author of the study seems to be utterly self-unawares of his own bias.

    And without resorting to Google – can anyone tell me where the “University of Pavia” is?

    • elizajane

      Balconesfault, Without resorting to Google, the University of Pavia is in Italy. Where the media is a model of independent, careful coverage of their upright leadership.
      //

  • West of the Rockies

    Radio media surely must be demonstrably bias towards conservatives. Limbaugh, Beck, Hannity, Savage, and their ilk I would bet far outnumber the progressive voices heard on the radio. The notion that the media is collectively liberal is quite ludicrous.

  • tommybones

    I’ll simplify:

    Mainstream Media = Corporate Owned
    Advertising Sponsors of Mainstream Media = Corporate Owned
    Corporations are not liberal.

    Therefore, mainstream media is not liberal. Never was. Never will be.

    • balconesfault

      well, mainstream media does tend to be somewhat liberal on social issues. that’s because corporations know that the real money tends to be on the liberal side of social issues, not the conservative side, and thus they’re happy with the media promoting it. Further, large corporations really don’t give a hoot for example if the life partner they’re covering under insurance benefits is same sex or opposite sex – they care about whether employee retention is improved by offering the benefit. large corporations by and large benefit from legal abortion, since it reduces the probability that a productive woman in the workforce who they’ve paid a lot of money to recruit, train, and retain will suddenly take off for maternity leave, or quit altogether. and of course, news media are now generally subservient portions of larger media/entertainment empires, and profitable popular entertainment is inherently socially liberal (socially conservative popular entertainment pretty much flops with a few exceptions, which is why even Fox is filled with fairly liberal entertainment shows)

      • Houndentenor

        The reason that the media tends to be liberal on social issues is that media comes from major cities where such attitudes are the norm. Everyone in the newsroom knows gay people. There are probably gay people working in the newsroom. They are not going to have the same attitudes as people do in small towns and rural areas. Most of the people I met working in New York who considered themselves conservative were economic conservatives and fairly to very liberal on the social issues. Look at the GOP politicians who have done well in the northeast for examples of this combination of views. So yes, the press is probably perplexed the reproductive choice is still an issue in many parts of the country. Mostly because they don’t know anyone all that strongly opposed to abortion rights.

  • Juggernauzt

    MSNBC is far more biased than Fox. CNN tries to hide their bias. ABC, CBS and NBC are biased with their news shows as well but not as often though they are in the tank for Obama and corrupt as it gets.

    MSNBC is not a news company if you think Fox is not because MSNBC lies a lot more often and they only cover the left in a positive way plus MSNBC rarely brings on conservatives to debate issues because they are afraid they’ll be trumped (no pun intended) Former Creep Olbermann plus Matthews, O”Donnell and so on rarely debate conservatives. Fox invites liberals on all day long!

    MSNBC is the media arm of the Democratic Party and MSNBC in cahoots with Obama because liberals can’t seem to tell the truth. Pass this around the and lets all call MSNBC the media arm of the democratic party because they are!!!

    I’ll start off with Rachel Maddow and Dread Shultz

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2009/oct/27/rachel-maddow/president-bush-new-york-times-interviews/
    “President Bush never did one interview with the New York Times during his entire presidency.”

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2011/feb/09/rachel-maddow/rachel-maddow-says-fox-news-said-new-black-panther/
    Fox News “said the New Black Panther Party decided the election for Barack Obama.”
    “President Bush never did one interview with the New York Times during his entire presidency.”

    http://www.democrats.com/msnbc-lies-about-warrantless-wiretapping
    MSNBC Lies about Warrentless Wiretapping

    http://newsbusters.org/blogs/kyle-drennen/2009/10/16/msnbc-admits-unable-verify-false-limbaugh-quote-no-retraction-or-apolo
    MSNBC Admits: ‘Unable to Verify’ False Limbaugh Quote; No Retraction or Apology

    Read more: http://newsbusters.org/blogs/kyle-drennen/2009/10/16/msnbc-admits-unable-verify-false-limbaugh-quote-no-retraction-or-apolo#ixzz1IDqnsu7M

    http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/feb/17/ed-schultz/talk-show-host-ed-schultz-says-wisconsin-state-emp/
    Under changes being debated, state employees in Wisconsin “who earn $30,000, $40,000, $50,000 a year might have 20 percent of their income just disappear overnight.”

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/jun/23/ed-schultz/ed-schultz-says-mcchrystal-was-obama-problem-inher/
    With his decision on whether to fire Gen. Stanley McChrystal, President Obama “has to fix yet another problem he inherited from the Bush administration.”

    http://www.politifact.com/truth-o-meter/statements/2010/may/14/ed-schultz/schultz-claims-landrieu-got-18-million-bp-pac-and-/
    “Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu received almost $1.8 million from BP over the last decade.”

    http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/statements/2011/feb/18/rachel-maddow/rachel-maddow-says-wisconsin-track-have-budget-sur/
    “Despite what you may have heard about Wisconsin’s finances, Wisconsin is on track to have a budget surplus this year.”

    Msnbc lies about white gunman at obama speech
    http://www.nowpublic.com/world/msnbc-tur…

    Keith Olbermann lies about SIOA freedom rally against Islamic mega-mosque
    http://www.jihadwatch.org/2010/06/keith-…

    Keith Olbermann lies, says Sarah Palin is a socialist and described Alaska that way
    http://24ahead.com/blog/archives/008242.…

    Rachel Maddow lies: Fox had absolutely nothing to do with the Shirley Sherrod story
    http://www.ihatethemedia.com/rachel-madd…

    In Exposing ACORN ‘Lies,’ Maddow Leaves Truth On the Cutting Room Floor
    http://bigjournalism.com/sright/2010/04/…

    Keith Olbermann Lies About Kenneth Gladney Attack
    http://gatewaypundit.rightnetwork.com/20…

    See pMSNBC lies all the time just like the HuffBlo aka Huffington Post lies all the time.

    • Bunker555

      Rupert Murdoch’s spiritual guru is Joe Goebbels. Faux News uses the same propaganda methods crafted by Joe against the Jews, except this time the target is the African American community and Hispanics.

      • LFC

        I decided to look at the first link Juggernauzt provided. There at the bottom was the telling quote that shows the difference between a mistake (Maddow) and lies (Faux News):

        The show did try to research the issue, “but obviously our fact-check fell short,” Maddow said in a statement to PolitiFact. “We’ll air a correction.”

  • Rabiner

    Slide’s comment “Bias is one thing and propaganda is another” really sums up the difference between the liberal bias of the New York Times and the ‘bias’ (its really propaganda) of Fox News. One informs you of issues that may be framed within a liberal context but the information is valid and true whereas the other misleads you with misinformation passed on as fact.

  • Juggernauzt

    Sorry but Fox journalists are prime examples of leaders in news analysis. You clowns on the left confuse Beck and Hannity with the real back bone of FOX. Ratings prove me right as do the lack of ratings at MSNBC and low subscriptions at NY Times…………its not just free news online, the Times has OpEd propganda mixed into the main sections A and B of the paper. You people would know this if you read multiple sources and joined the Times Tracker service that reports on media bias. the Grey Lady is down………read the book with the same title and review subscription demographics because the Times has alienated to many. Remember only 20% identify as liberal and the Times has abandoned reason and sanity for a far leftward tilt way too long. Even the Washington Post is doing better than the Times.

    The fecal brains at Media Matters are know for lies and distorting the facts and they are biased so often that they have to beg for money because ad sales are low. Read the Center for Media Interrity or the St. Petersburg Times Politifact at http://www.politifact.com

    You people really need to read my links 2 posts up because liberals lie all the time and they go unchecked while dems steal the future with biased media protection.

  • Juggernauzt

    The mind of the left, nazi this and that and no common sense comparing Americans to Nazis. Dumb!

    Bunker555 // Apr 29, 2011 at 1:57 am

    Rupert Murdoch’s spiritual guru is Joe Goebbels. Faux News uses the same propaganda methods crafted by Joe against the Jews, except this time the target is the African American community and Hispanics.

  • CentristNYer

    As Jon Stewart has very effectively pointed out time and time again, MSNBC may have a leaning, but when it comes to real bias, Fox leaves them in the dust. It’s not even close.

    The fact that a half dozen potential Republican presidential candidates have been or currently are Fox News contributors pretty much tells the whole story right there. There’s nothing even remotely comparable on MSNBC — or on CNN or any of the mainstream news networks, for that matter. That’s because they’re serious news gathering operations, not political propaganda machines. The distinction couldn’t be clearer.

  • Houndentenor

    I think most viewers are smart enough to realize that EVERYONE has some biases and opinions and those will color how much time is given to various issues. However, a responsible news organization will focus on facts and context. So, while the New York Times does have a sort of northeastern establishment center-left point of view, do they distort facts or present facts out of context to create a false impression?

    What concerns me about Fox is that I hear people claim that it’s their only news source. I don’t think any source should be anyone’s news source. I especially think that’s true about television news which usually offers only superficial coverage of important issues (especially if there are no good pictures). People who want to be informed have to read. And here’s a clue…the longer the article, the more likely it is to present multiple points of view, facts and context.

  • Slide

    Juggernauzt: “Sorry but Fox journalists are prime examples of leaders in news analysis. You clowns on the left confuse Beck and Hannity with the real back bone of FOX. Ratings prove me right”

    Of course ratings have noting to do with the accuracy or honesty of a news show but if it did, well those “liberal” news shows have a total of 22 million viewers per day to Fox’s 2 million. Would you like to re-frame your argument?

    NBC News 8,434,000 viewers
    ABC News 7,655,000 viewers
    CBS News 5,686,000 viewers
    FOX News 2,057,000 viewers

  • maxfieldj

    I remember how liberal the New York Times was during the lead up to the Iraq war. Could Bush have asked for better media support than what the NYT and the rest of the so called media provided him? When they should have been questioning the statements the government was making they fell in line because they were afraid that any opposing view would be viewed as unpatriotic.

  • balconesfault

    When they should have been questioning the statements the government was making they fell in line because they were afraid that any opposing view would be viewed as unpatriotic.

    Hell, the “liberal Washington Post” fell into the line which called out any opposing view was unpatriotic.

  • Primrose

    First, yes studies show more journalists are liberal but their editors and publishers are more likely to be conservative and it is those people who decide the story. That and publicists who work for corporations, and do what corporate execs tell them to do. Corporate execs are more likely to be conservative.

    Second, Fox covers the same topics as the NY times. They have a different take on it but they cover the same stories, considered liberal.

  • SkepticalIdealist

    Even by your standards Fox news is more biased because they not only favor conservatives through nasty attack politics, but they also do it in their story selection too. Black Panther Party, War on Christmas, reverse racism, reverse discrimination, and the list goes on and on. Also, I would argue that Republicans have no issues that can be considered objectively strong on their merits unless you already buy into conservative dogma (e.g. their position on gay marriage is only a “strong position” to you if you already have a conservative opinion on it, whereas healthcare can be measured more objectively in terms of how many people are covered). On military spending, the overwhelming majority of Americans think we should cut, and that is precisely the opposite position Republicans maintain. On education, they are against public workers on principle so their instinct is naturally towards cutting – again the opposite of what most constituents want for their own school districts. In truth, the Republican party is driven almost entirely by hatred of Democrats, hatred of gays, and hatred of everyone who receives government assistance unless that person happens to be you.

  • seeker656

    One of the most politically informative shows on cable is Morning Joe on MSNBC. Views from all sides of the political spectrum are consistently aired by people whose biases are obvious. They have intelligent adult debates frequently (not always). I am not aware of a comparable program in Fox.