Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Taint by Numbers

Here's a scientific, academic study of media bias in the United States. The methodology seems sound. The conclusion is that the media is far to the left of the mainstream, so much so that Fox News comes out, not as the conservative beast that my co-workers consider it to be, but the mainstream.

From the introduction:

Few studies provide an objective measure of the slant of news, and none has provided a way to link such a measure to ideological measures of other political actors. That is, none of the existing measures can say, for example, whether the New York Times is more liberal than Tom Daschle or whether Fox News is more conservative than Bill Frist. We provide such a measure. Namely, we compute an ADA score for various news outlets, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, USA Today, the Drudge Report, Fox News’ Special Report, and all three networks’ nightly news shows.

Our results show a very significant liberal bias. All of the news outlets except Fox News’ Special Report received a score to the left of the average member of Congress. Moreover, by one of our measures all but three of these media outlets (Special Report, the Drudge Report, and ABC’s World News Tonight) were closer to the average Democrat in Congress than to the median member of the House of Representatives. One of our measures found that the Drudge Report is the most centrist of all media outlets in our sample. Our other measure found that Fox News’ Special Report is the most centrist. These 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.

To compute our measure, we count the times that a media outlet cites various think tanks. We compare this with the times that members of Congress cite the same think tanks in their speeches on the floor of the House and Senate. By comparing the citation patterns we can construct an ADA score for each media outlet.

As a simplified example, imagine that there were only two think tanks, one liberal and one conservative. Suppose that the New York Times cited the liberal think tank twice as often as the conservative one. Our method asks: What is the estimated ADA score of a member of Congress who exhibits the same frequency (2:1) in his or her speeches? This is the score that our method would assign to the New York Times.