Turned up to eleven: Fair and Balanced

Thursday, March 21, 2002

I want to return to the subject of liberal bias in the media, because I am interested in 1) the facts of the case, i.e. the numbers, and 2) the psychology of the issue. For the numbers, here is an actual research document published on the web by Stanford University (bastion of liberal academia!) professor Geoffrey Nunberg (Scroll down to read his commentary, then click to the PDF data). This was referred to me by The Daily Howler. You should evaluate this data for yourself, but the question asked is essentially; Do liberals get labeled as liberal more often in newspapers than conservatives get labeled as such, or vice versa? To summarize the author's opinion, he thinks that the results indicate, surprisingly, liberals get labeled more often than conservatives. This is exactly the opposite of Bernie Goldberg's entirely anecdotal account of the various TV news anchors' behaviors. So the numbers don't bear out the hypothesis, at least in this manifestation.

So here is the second point, which I think is more interesting. Could you prove to a conservative (or a liberal) that they were not being persecuted by their favorite bugaboo? Will a conservative ever believe that the NY Times is pretty much fair in its news coverage? Regardless of the examples Ira Stoll finds, there is no evidence, that I know of, of systemic, statistically significant bias in news coverage in either direction, at any newspaper. The op-ed pages, of course, are a different story, but op-ed stands for opinion and editorial, so it is entirely appropriate for that part of a newspaper to express an opinion. Conversely, it is hard for many liberals, especially hard-core lefties, to accept that sometimes corporations do the right thing because the people running them are human beings with actual consciences, and not cold, ruthless automatons. I suspect that for many no amount of statistical analysis of these or many other pernicious myths will change their minds, but one can always try.