How Biased Is the Media? Bring Your Questions for the Author of Left Turn

Tim Groseclose is a political-science professor at UCLA (and an occasional co-author with Steve Levitt) who has spent years trying to systematically and empirically study media bias. He has a new book out called Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Here’s what Levitt had to say about it recently:

As the title suggests, it has a definite conservative slant. It is not, however, a right-wing rant by any means. Rather, it is a carefully researched and amusingly written book by a highly regarded academic.

Groseclose’s core argument is that the U.S. media overall has a strong liberal bias, and that this bias strongly influences how Americans vote and how they think about the issues of the day. He reached this conclusion by constructing a “political quotient” (PQ), which is meant to measure political views in a “precise, objective, and quantitative way.” The average American voter, he argues, has a PQ of 50. Liberal Democrats Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi both have a PQ of approximately 100; conservative Republicans Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint have a PQ of approximately 0. If we could “magically eliminate liberal media bias,” Groseclose writes, the average American would have a PQ closer to 25, and would be more in line with people like Ben Stein, Dennis Miller and Bill O’Reilly.

Groseclose also concludes that media bias helps Democratic candidates by about 8 to 10 percentage points in a typical election — and that if media bias didn’t exist, John McCain would have defeated Barack Obama in the 2008 election by 56%-42%, rather than losing 53%-46%.

Groseclose has agreed to field questions from Freakonomics readers, so please post them in the comments section below. As always, we’ll post his answers in short course. BTW: we may also make a Freakonomics Radio program on the topic of media bias, so please write some questions that are good enough for me to steal when I interview Groseclose and others.

To prime the pump, here’s the table of contents from Left Turn. Ask away! Which you did. And here are the answers to some of your questions.

Part I: Political Quotients and the Science of Politics
1. What Are PQs and How Do They Reveal Media Bias?
2. Caught in a Trap: Problems in Judging Media Bias
3. But I’ve Been to Oklahoma
4. Ps and Qs of PQs
5. Defining the “Center”

Part II: A Distortion Theory of Media Bias
6. Lies, Damned Lies, and Omitted Statistics: A Case Study in Distortion Theory
7. Hidden Under a Bushel
8. An “Alien” Conservative Injected into a Liberal Newsroom and the Topics She Might Cover

Part III: Evidence of Liberal Media Bias
9. Political Views in the Newsroom: Viva Homogeneity
10. The Second-Order Problem of an Unbalanced Newsroom
11. The Anti-Newsroom: Washington County, Utah
12. Walk a Mile in the Shoes of a Centrist
13. “Wise Men from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Say…”
14. The Language of Journalists and the Special Case of Partial-Birth Abortion
15. The Language of Journalists and Gentzkow-Shapiro Measure of Media Bias
16. Facts About the Bush Tax Cuts: Another Way to Measure Media Bias Objectively and Quantitatively
17. The Media Mu

Part IV: Effects of Media Bias
18. Measuring the Influence of the Media I: Many Methods False and Spent, and One That’s Not
19. Measuring the Influence of the Media II: Two More Groundbreaking Experiments
20. The Media Lambda
21. Rendezvous with Clarity
22. Walk a Mile in the Shoes of a Centrist… Whose Mind Has Not Been Distorted by Media Bias
Epilogue: Small Steps Toward a Better Media



  1. Jim says:

    Without giving away the whole book, how about a short explanation of how a PQ is computed?

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  2. Mike B says:

    There is no point is engaging a propagandist in any sort of reasoned discourse. Questions will be instantly deflected to their talking points and anyone who disagrees will be singled out for hostile or uninformed.

    Of course his point about the average American being more conservative if all media resembled Fox News is almost a tautology. A population will tend to reflect the ideas of media they are exposed to. Look how much the North Koreans continue to love Kim Jong Il.

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  3. Jeremiah Stanghini says:

    While I’m not familiar with the years that Groseclose used to conduct his study, I think it would be important to have just as many years where Republicans were in power as those where Democrats were in power. Meaning, if he used 2000-2008 in his study, it would be important to use 1992-2000, as well, as the media slant in the different decades may be different. Beyond that, and this may be a bit too difficult, it would be interesting to see the particular slants when Congress is Republican-controlled vs. Democrat-controlled (and even if the President is R/D). I wonder if we would see differences in the media bias in the different iterations.

    It’d also be interesting to see how Groseclose explains a book like The Spirit Level, which, to my recollection purports that as countries strive for equality on all levels, the health and well-being of the country increases. [I am aware of the counter-arguments in The Spirit Delusion.] The research from The Spirit Level, if I may extrapolate, may suggest that the planet, on the whole, is moving towards a more socialistic ideology. As such, wouldn’t it be fair to assume that the range of the media bias would also move slightly to a more socialistic (and liberal) viewpoint?

    With Love and Gratitude,


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  4. Jack says:

    Why does liberal media bias exist in the first place? What would you suggest as a way that a) journalists could be more aware of their own bias and limit it in their reporting, or b) the profession of journalism could attract a more unbiased (or merely more representative) cohort?

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  5. robu says:

    Is it true that certain media organizations assigned interns to monitor certain political figures and watch for gaffs and missteps? Was this practice limited to a particular party?

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  6. Carl Natale says:

    I’m a recovering journalist so I’m not a believer in the left-wing media conspiracy. But the 2008 presidential election made me wonder.

    During the GOP primaries, Sen. John McCain was constantly asked to defend his conservative credentials. There was even a GOP debate that seemed dedicated to finding out who was the most conservative. (“If Ronald Reagan were alive today, would he think you were conservative enough?”)

    At one point in the campaign, McCain had to declare himself more conservative than George W. Bush. Since not yet President Obama ran against Bush, it was a gift from heaven.

    I know McCain had more problems than that. But I feel like the Republicans were set up. How crazy is that?

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 23 Thumb down 21
  7. Rachel says:

    How can you seriously argue that without the “liberal media”, the average American would closely resemble the conservative media giants? Wouldn’t your argument basically boil down to that if the “liberal media” went away, then people would form their opinions based entirely on the “conservative media”?

    Furthermore, how do you account for the filter bubble effect — that liberals and conservatives alike listen to media that doesn’t challenge their views?

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    • KevinH says:

      I think this is a good question, but I think that the answer would that the manipulation in the study is to look at relative levels of all media engagement. If you take away all media and people tend to be more conservative, then that would be evidence for there being more liberal media than conservative media.

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      • Enter your name says:

        Not necessarily: Taking away all media means taking away (nearly) all information about what’s going on. This could mean only that the more ignorant you are of current events, the more conservative you are.

        This is not an unreasonable outcome: if you don’t know about the horrible situation in the next town, then your default is to think, “Everything is currently okay for me and mine: therefore, no changes are needed.”

        When you hear that the hard working young woman who moved away (as I once did fifteen years ago) was unexpectedly abandoned by her husband in the middle of a difficult second pregnancy, lost her job because she kept fainting and vomiting, and learned (after the birth) that the “pregnancy difficulties” were actually caused by brain cancer rather than the pregnancy, you start wondering about the strength of the safety net.

        When you later hear that the State of Colorado’s response on receiving her welfare application for temporary help with food, housing, and hospital bills until she was out of treatment and could go back to work, was to say “Why did you (note: a married woman who believed she was healthy) have a baby anyway? You could have had surgery to prevent it” — you start thinking that some serious change, in the direction of those liberal values of compassion and respect for individual choices, would be a very good idea indeed.

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    • Letstrylogic says:

      Well…if you look at the ratings at Fox News compared to the rest I think you will get an answer to your question. Most people, that actually watch news…are conservative.

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      • Lance says:

        fox news may have high ratings because they get the vast majority of conservatives to watch a single news source, whereas there is a greater variety and number of less right wing-biased news sources that less conservative people watch. there may actually be a much greater number, and even greater relative percentage, of non-conservatives who watch news, but the numbers are spread out over those various channels and programs, thus diluting the ratings for any one of them. it’s pretty basic math. “high ratings for fox” does not necessarily equal “conservatives watch news more than non-conservatives.” it’s a logical fallacy, a false equivalent.

        one might argue that people who are conservative are dumb and don’t/can’t read, so they rely on the easy medium of television to get their news, whereas less conservative and more intelligent people get their news from written sources as well, thus decreasing the number of non-conservative news-watchers. again, that would be a logical fallacy of sorts if i tried to present it as a statement of fact, but i’m not. but it’s as valid as your comment is.

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    • Dan says:

      No, silly. The argument is that without Liberal bias, voters would not be so liberal.

      Their views would not be based on ‘conservative media’, but rather on a balanced media with ratings in the 50ish range.

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      • Rachel says:

        “The average American voter, he argues, has a PQ of 50. Liberal Democrats Barney Frank and Nancy Pelosi both have a PQ of approximately 100; conservative Republicans Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint have a PQ of approximately 0. If we could “magically eliminate liberal media bias,” Groseclose writes, the average American would have a PQ closer to 25, and would be more in line with people like Ben Stein, Dennis Miller and Bill O’Reilly.”

        By this guy’s reasoning, if we eliminate “liberal media bias”, then the average American ends up….exactly where he places prominent conservative media commentators. That’s not “magically eliminating liberal media bias”, that’s “replacing liberal bias with conservative bias.”

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  8. Caleb b says:

    Without reading the book, it would seem to me that self-selection would push people with a high interest in social issues into the media workforce. Just like all, and I do mean all, the staff at my local Big Brothers/Big Sisters office are self identified democrats.

    Self-selection isn’t bad for society, in fact, it’s part of being rational maximizers.

    My question is this: is self-selection at work in media companies (both the liberal and conservative medias)? And, where other occupations have strong political self-selection? Are bankers more likely to be conservative? Are artists and actors more likely to be liberal?

    Also, what about a person whose occupation conflicts with their political party? Like a republican abortion doctor, or a democrat prison executioner.

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    • Steevn says:

      Self-selection is fine, but what’s concerning is a professional not being able to put that aside and deliver unbiased results, which is what the news profession claims to do.

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  9. Sully says:

    The “Media” – a large group of well-educated and highly-informed people. Well-educated and highly-informed people are liberal? Shocker.

    Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 61 Thumb down 61
    • J1 says:

      You need to be specific about what you mean by well educated and highly informed. My experience has been that journalists have an almost comical ignorance of scientific and mathematical areas I have expertise in; I have to assume that ignorance extends to areas I’m ignorant of myself. Personally, I would not consider someone with a journalism degree to be “well educated”. Likewise, even when journalists are well educated (and informed, whatever that means), that doesn’t mean whatever expertise they have is applicable to the issues they report on. Is somebody with a law degree any more qualified than your cat to analyze scientific or economic issues?

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      • Joshua Northey says:

        Journalists are pretty ignorant yes, but have you ever interacted with the general public? They are downright morons and make the journalists all look like Rhodes scholars.

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      • J1 says:

        You (and me) are part of the general public. Are you sure you don’t want to narrow that down? If you were writing an article or producing a news show, would you do it in a fashion that you knew made you look like an idiot? Granted, some journalists go on the air and make themselves look dumber than a bag of rocks ( , but it’s usually inadvertent. She’s got a degree in journalism, by the way.

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      • Dan says:

        In my experience, non journalists are much more informed on economic issues than journalists.

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 2
      • Brandon says:

        Well, if by “informed”, you mean, “Holds right-wing and/or libertarian views on economic issues”, then yes. But, based on all the info I’ve read, studies I’ve looked at, etc. etc., the hard right stance on economics (that government should basically just BUTT OUT except for a few critical areas) is total nonsense, robber baron-style crap. It’s a “dead idea”, as Matt Miller refers to them, and the only reason people keep holding onto them is because they either a) refuse to believe or accept the real facts otherwise or b) they only look at sources that confirm their economic bias, whether or not they actually tell the truth and are verified.

        Of course, I’m not even really much of a socialist, although I DO believe in a strong safety net and social insurance programs “Just in case”, esp. as automatic stabilizers when the sh*t hits the fan, but that in no way makes me someone who “loves” government. Not a chance.

        I sure hope this Groesclose fella actually has empirical ‘evidence’ to back up his ridiculous-sounding assertion that Obama would’ve LOST by a whopping FOURTEEN points to McCain (…really? 14 points after being basically a carbon copy of Bush?) if not for “liberal media bias.” I don’t wanna read a bunch of conservative ranting and grandstanding. Furthermore, it boggles my mind that ONLY Tim thinks he has the ‘know-how’ and ability to “empirically” demonstrate that “without media bias”, Obama would’ve lost in a landslide, even though ALL the major polls consistently rated Obama as a top candidate, and McCain never really had a chance. Obama would’ve had to F up to lose. Americans were already fed up with 2 terms of Bush, and they could tell McCain was really McBush.

        I mean, am I to believe that NO CREDIBLE POLLING FIRM in the country would’ve had the balls or ability to ‘see through the media bias’ and ‘correct’ the poll results for this alleged bias? Or at least THINK to do an experiment to see what the results would be like IF media acted differently in 2008? I doubt it. Tim sounds like a cocky with claims like that.

        Good thing I’m getting this book from my library and not actually buying it. I really wouldn’t wanna waste my money if it sucks.

        Thumb up 8 Thumb down 4
      • Loothor says:

        “Is somebody with a law degree any more qualified than your cat to analyze scientific or economic issues?”

        Duh. Yeah, I’m going to go ahead and assume there’s more value in analysis of anything by a human being with any type of college degree than by a cat.

        And yes, there is a point to that other than just to be funny. Educated people, regardless of what their specific focus of study was, tend to have picked up a lot more information throughout their lives about general topics… they are more comfortable reading, researching, and connecting the dots.

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    • Dan says:

      Nowhere will you find more economic illiterates than in the media — at all levels.

      Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2
  10. frankenduf says:

    do you know who owns and funds the mass media outlets?- are these owners/funders liberally biased?- if not, how do you explain the contradiction that corporations control the mass media yet produce a bias against their own interests?

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    • Ben says:

      The assumptions made here are:

      a) Corporations are pro-Republican/conservative. This is not necessarily true. Look at the money that President Obama received from Wall St and corporations.

      b) Big government is against corporate interests. This is patently false. Corporations have learned, because of their amoral nature, to manipulate the government through lobbying for their own advantage. A real-world, open competition imagined by Capitalists is much harder for a corporation to win than if they have friends in the monopoly that is the government.

      Corporations are not necessarily conservative in nature.

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  11. rageon says:

    Liberal…or socially liberal?

    Socially I think it’s pretty clear that the media leans that way, and I’m not sure too many people, even liberals themselves, would disagree too strongly about that.

    But fiscally, I’m not convinced. The companies that control the media are some of the largest companies in the entire world. They would have no incentive to promote fiscially liberal policies. And corporation, like people, presumably respond to incentives (which if you’re on this website, you already know).

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    • Lawrence says:

      What role does religion play in these biases? Michele Bachmann and Jim DeMint are both Christian ideologues, and while there are certainly “anti-religion” ideologues on the left, neither Barney Frank nor Nancy Pelosi would qualify.

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      • James says:

        But the religion bias works both ways. I would like conservatism quite a bit more if it didn’t expect me to share a tent with the religious right.

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    • Steevn says:

      But I don’t think the company owners are shaping the views of their news desk. Rather, I think the news people themselves are attempting to serve a different set of two masters: ratings, and “making the world a better place” by way of their reporting.

      Thumb up 6 Thumb down 4
      • Tim says:

        Of course the owners shape the view of their news desks. Do you think Roger Ailes at Fox doesn’t force that network to be a mouthpiece for conservatives? Little outta touch there Steve…

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      • Michael says:

        Rupert Murdoch

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    • Mike Lemmer says:

      “Because they make money.”

      If you assume the more outrage a media outlet riles up, the more viewers/revenue it gets, then a liberal media railing against abuses & misdeeds would make more money than a conservative media going, “Things are fine the way they are.” A liberal media outlet would make sense for a conservative company as long as it A)didn’t attack its parent company and B)its parent had enough lobbyists to get exceptions from the fiscally liberal policies.

      I would use Fox News as a test for the outrage assumption. My hypothesis: Fox News is as successful as it is because it grew during a time (’96-’00) where government & businesses were turning liberal, which reversed the standard stances of conservatives (“Things are fine the way they are”) and liberals (“No they’re not”).

      Finally, a question: If a liberal corporation acquired Fox News today, would they make more money by dampening its conservative slant or leaving it as-is?

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  12. KevinH says:

    I must admit, I haven’t heard more than the barest outline of Mr. Groseclose’s thesis, but I am intrigued. My question is the following:

    “Do you believe that there are institutions within the country which provide a conservative bias? What are they and how does their impact compare with the media in your analysis?”

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    • cackalacka says:

      Agreed; I think the strongest counterpoint to Mr. Groseclose’s premise is, what would the presidential split have been if all the influential media outlets weren’t owned by conservatives (re: Disney, Murdoch/Newscorp, GE, etc.)

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 15 Thumb down 11
      • Ben says:

        You assume Disney and GE are “conservative.” GE is a massive recipient of government grants and tax breaks. Lobbying is required for this, especially with GE’s “green” initiatives and income streams. Do you think GE is for or against a larger, more regulatory government that gives them tax breaks and grants for their research? GE is certainly not conservative, and I’d be interested to see how you’d claim Disney was as well?

        I can’t argue with Newscorp, though.

        Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0
      • mary says:

        The Koch Bros are very conservative, yet their companies receive massive grants and tax breaks, too. They take advantage of ethanol and oil subsidies, logging roads, bailouts, etc. Does that mean the Kochs own liberal companies, or does it just mean that they’re conservatives not above taking advantage of programs they purport to hate?

        Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0
    • Steevn says:

      Talk radio, Fox News, and the Wall Street Jounral. That’s about it. Good question.

      Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1
      • Goatherd says:

        I think the question was about other non-media institutions. Like e.g. the church, the military, Wall Street. These have a conservative bent.

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    • Matthias says:

      And as a follow up…if there exists institutions that provide a conservative bias, how do their ratings compare to one with a liberal bias?

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0
  13. TMoney says:

    How in the world of shareholder owned media companies could a liberal newsroom exist ?

    – Unless that was what the market demanded. Surely these companies would pander to either their shareholders (by slanting news for increased market share) or to the public (by slanting news for increased market share) or perhaps by marketing news to a specific – presumably profitable niche (Christian, gay, liberal, conservative, spanish-speaking etc). Indeed, Fox news clearly shows that there is only a finite market for news with a specific (conservative) bias – and you can make the same arguement about mother jones and the liberal media.

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  14. Matthias says:

    Isn’t the idea of unbiased news an oxymoron? In American history, I understood that news sources had a proclaimed bias that was as obvious as their name (e.g. The Arizona Republic or The Tallahassee Democrat). Do you know when the general media outlets began to proclaim “non bias”, and has a true unbiased news source ever really existed?

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    • Alex says:

      Not true, considering that Anti-American movies continually are made and sell poorly (See Green Zone, GI Joe, Hurt Locker), while Pro-American movies dominate (See Iron Man, Captain America).

      Going further, Fox dominates MSNBC. Often it beats its Broadcast rivals that reach millions of more homes and have a strong familiarity aspect. Drudge outperforms any site that is similar in nature. Wherever there is real choice, conservative views are drawing more eyes.

      Hot debate. What do you think? Thumb up 9 Thumb down 13
      • FDUK says:

        How can the supposed liberal bias actually exist?

        If you are a main stream media company and your market audience is near to a score of 25, what incentive is there to being more liberal than a score of 50? Surely if the book’s hypothesis were correct then the mass media would gravitate to a score nearer to 25, but it does not despite the main media companies (Disney, Newscorp etc) likely having a score that is close to 25?

        Why would main stream media companies go against their obvious self interest in terms of the parent company’s outlook and the mass of their audience?

        I also wonder what effect the fact that most mainstream media is based in cities has? Cities are generally more liberal than the countryside so you might well expect main stream media to be more liberal.

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    • Michael says:

      “has a true unbiased news source ever really existed?”
      Christian Science Monitor, Al Jazeera

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 2
    • Jebuswankel says:

      About one hundred years ago. The trend you’re talking about is the rise of ‘professionalism.’ It coincided with market pressures that lead to consolidation of media companies. Bob McChesney has studied this topic, and I’m sure he’d say that there never has been an unbiased news source, nor should we aim for one.

      In England there used to be a vibrant, respected independent labor press, but it dried up specifically because it couldn’t earn advertising revenues by catering to working class people. Look at the ads in the WSJ and NYT and tell me those papers don’t cater to the elite.

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  15. Shane says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • Still Learning says:

      Does the fact that most media outlets are owned by corporations limit how liberal or left leaning they can be? From my perspective, to question the the capitalist system on an extremely critical level would be bad for business and ultimately bad for left of center media corporations. With that in mind, it seems likely that right leaning media organizations are less controlled whereas those media outlets who lean to the left can only go so far. If right wing media can go farther right with less constraints, how might that impact the current media landscape?

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  16. Brennan Young says:

    1) Any “highly regarded academic” would take care to bring in related works on this topic. How do you relate your research and findings to “Manufacturing Consent” by Herman and Chomsky, and “Flat Earth News” by Nick Davies? Both of these works are thoroughly researched, rather definitive studies of the influence of PR on, and the mechanisms of propaganda in the free press. They illustrate that the more common scenario is conservative – or more correctly – ‘corporatist’ bias.

    2) Given that the politics of the USA is significantly more conservative than most other developed nations, how applicable are your findings to an analysis of the mass media in other countries?

    3) Aren’t there other – perhaps more important – ideological axes than liberal/conservative? (e.g. statist vs. grassroots)

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    • Nathan B says:

      I particularly appreciate 1 and 3 of Brennan’s questions. I’d also be curious to hear thoughts on the so-called echo chamber effect, where news is not shaped by newsroom ideology, but rather by the talking points presented by left and right-winged propagandists and if that has dramatically altered the degree and type of media bias beginning with the rise of conservative talk radio and later Fox News.

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  17. Sam says:

    I’m surprised at the statement that the typical american PQ is 25. How does PQ vary by age and education? If more education is correlated with higher PQ, does that explain media bias since most journalists are required to have a college education?

    How do the various outlets stack up via PQ? NPR, MSNBC, Fox, etc.

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    • J1 says:

      More education is not correlated with higher “PQ”. Based on GSS data, compared to someone whose education level is high school or less, a college graduate is 1.36 times as likely to identify as Republican, and .83 times as likely to identify as a Democrat.

      My question for Groseclose: Is unbiased reporting even possible, or should media outlets simply acknowledge their bias and let the consumer sort things out?

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  18. Adam says:

    Right…. Like Fox isn’t the most viewed network on TV. They love posted that statistic. If it is in fact true (many polls, facts, comments, etc. are actually false), then the media would certainly be skewed to the right, not the left. It’s all relative to what channels/outlet people watch or read. Obama still wins in 2008, even though it turns our he’s doing good work for the Republicans as we speak.

    I’m an independent, and when you have to claim the media has Liberal bias (or Conservative), then more often than not, you are defending something that you know to be false.

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  19. Joshua Northey says:

    As someone who has enjoyed this website regularly I am saddened this misguided book is getting further exposure. Will you at least ask some challenging questions? The research is pretty controversial, and frankly from what I can glean does not at all show what the author claims it shows.

    How about some hard questions about what the actual data is. Not narratives/interpretations about what the data means, but an actual description of it.

    From what I understand the centerpiece argument is akin to the following:
    If you eliminated the media and educational systems children would be much less likely to believe in evolution. Clearly our schools and media have a “pro evolution bias” that should be eliminated so our children can exhibit their “neutral” (read: parent dominated) belief system.

    The book is simply an exercise in losing touch with good epistemology (which is facilitating the approximation of truth) and instead pursuing some misguided witch-hunt for “bias”.

    A lot of the work being done is stipulating solid research as “partisan” and then claiming the media is “biased” when it uses that research to support its facts. Sure the media is biased towards the truth, I should hope so!

    Maybe on trivial issues the media has a “liberal bias” in the sense you mean (like abortion or gun control), but on the core issues (economic/military/foreign policy/political) it is center-right, just as it has been for the past 160 years. Have you studied European and Anglophone history since 1850 at all? Do you have any pattern recognition skills? The past 160 years are a testament to victory after victory after victory for what you would call “liberals”. There are sometimes setbacks, but the core of conservative belief at any point in that time period would be completely unacceptable to most citizens just 50 years later, and borderline offensive 100 years later.

    At least 75% of what conservatives decry as “liberal bias” is simply an attempt to relabel facts “liberal bias” and turn back the clock.

    Just to be clear that I am not some “liberal” in the political sense. I did not vote for Obama last election and think the Democrats are running the country into the ground 99% as quickly as the Republicans are. I think the US government deficit/debt is completely ridiculous and unacceptable. I think we should drastically scale back entitlements, and raise taxes/reduce benefits for the bottom quintiles. I am fine with leaving gun control laws and abortion up to the states to determine. I think a huge number of federal programs could be fruitfully eliminated (though I would replace many of them with different ones).

    That said I find a lot of the conservative political positions in this country heinous and don’t look to ally myself with a bunch of people who we will look at in 2075 the same way we look at Klansmen and segregationists today. Do you really want to shill for what will almost certainly in 75 years be looked at as the equivalent of Klansmen? Wouldn’t you rather write books for some other purpose?

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    • Ben says:

      First, big caveat, since I haven’t read the book yet. But the intro to it definitely makes me feel like I want to drop Levitt and Freakonomics down a couple of notches in my mind.

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  20. scott says:

    Did the author take a look a the business aspect of media and journalism? In the end, media sources are businesses, correct? If most people don’t agree with their programming, why would they continue to listen or tune in?

    It’s hard to believe owners of media outlets would allow the biases of their employees to harm their business.

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  21. Ezzie Goldish says:

    What are your own views/what is your own PQ?

    How difficult is it to have people take your findings seriously without them immediately dismissing you as having your own, conservative bias?

    How common is it for any claims of bias to be met with an assumption of reverse bias? (i.e. if someone accuses another of bias, how often are they immediately dismissed or projected as being biased in the reverse direction)

    Do you think the title and subtitle of the book make it more difficult for people on the left to take the findings seriously? (Is this important?)

    Can I get a free copy? 😀

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  22. jo says:

    It seems to me that the argument is not whether there is a bias but weather conservatism is superior to liberalism. If it was about bias then the PQ right now would be 75 and eliminating the bias would restore it to 50, in the middle. However since the claim is that it would drop without liberal interference to 25, I have to assume it is inferred that conservatism is a superior argument.

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  23. Greg says:

    In the table of contents alone: If the biblical references (“hidden under a bushel”, “walk a mile in the shoes”) weren’t a tip-off about the conservative bias in the mind of the author, the use of the propaganda term “partial-birth abortion” sure is.

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  24. person1 says:

    I don’t have enough time or space to post all my skepticism of this argument, but perhaps the greatest flaw of this analysis is that the wrong question is being asked, and the issue is framed incorrectly. If anything, most media have an INSTITUTIONAL bias that favors the status quo and supports the interests of existing institutions, whether corporate or governmental. This limits the collective imagination and presentation of truly alternative viewpoints, thereby constraining the scope of debate. Most people find it difficult to imagine a reality very different from the one already surrounding them, and the media are no different.

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  25. Zach Brannan says:

    When computing my PQ using the procedural votes you gave in the Part 1 explanation – I came out far more liberal than I would have expected. I tend to think of myself as leaning libertarian with conservative fiscal tendencies and liberal regarding social issues. I tend to care more about being fiscally conservative (as it impacts me more) than I do about supporting social issues which largely impact me only tangentially at best, and so I’ve always identified myself as moderate leaning conservative.

    I confess I haven’t finished the book (which I purchased after seeing Stephen’s blog post about it), but have you toyed with adding more granularity to your study by examining any difference in the media bias regarding social vs fiscal issues?

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  26. george letscher says:

    Aren’t many people merely creatures of habit wherein a sizeable portion of voters (+5-10%) on the left only vote when they are moved to do so by a strong stimulus (bad economy, compelling candidate, etc.)

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  27. Eric M. Jones says:

    So why is it that people who have wide experience with foreign countries, teach in colleges and universities, and have very high IQs and educations are generally liberals? Is this some sort of a conspiracy?

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    • caleb b says:

      So why is it that people who run private industry, corporations, and small businesses (that provides all the tax revenue) are generally conservative? Is this some sort of a conspiracy?

      So why is it that people who are on welfare, receive government subsidies, work at a job that relies on taxes (those colleges you mentioned), or work for a protected union are generally liberal? Is this some sort of conspiracy?

      Nope, people vote their own pocket book.

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  28. Ricky C says:

    I haven’t read the books, but it has been difficult for me to come to grips with two things in the liberal media bias argument.

    1. We have free choice in what media we consume, journalism our otherwise, and media responds to rating. Conservative viewpoints may rule the cable news channels and AM radio, but that ain’t saying much. How do you reconcile your conclusions with the fact that Americans appear to choose media you label as liberally-biased when they have more conservative options? Why doesn’t the media reflect the supposedly conservative viewpoint of its consumers? Does the media really drive consumer thought in an open media market, or is the opposite true?

    2. American public opinion is fickle on important issues. It is hard for me to consider the average American voter the “center” when that center appears to be a sporadically moving target. When talking about a “center”, you expect something a little more stable even as it shifts. Journalists, more ingrained with the issues and needing to maintain integrity over time, would have more stable opinions. Do you look at shifts over time? Do you have a PQ moving average? How does this compare to journalistic PQ?

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  29. Deron says:

    I’ll have to read the book, and have it on my wish list. Some items I hope it addresses are:

    1. What is the “liberal media” and doesn’t the construct prejudice the results? What attempts are made to construct a definition of “liberal” that is not reflective of the author’s biased determination? Does the author believe that there is one umbrella definition for liberal and one for conservative? How does that square with a libertarian who believes that government should not be involved in marriage and the drug trade? Or, a liberal who is pro-labor, but very socially conservative?

    For my other questions I assume the “liberal media” to consist of network news, public broadcasting, a couple of declining cable news channels, and the nations leading newspapers – I take this to be what is usually meant by “liberal media”.

    2. Since much of the media consists of local news, are we to believe that a local reporter who votes Democrat in Ohio, shares views with Democrat’s in Massachusetts, Nevada, California, or Florida? Do they all speak with one liberal voice, or do regional politics influence their reporting in a way that in another state they might be considered conservative?

    3. Why should we believe that within the competitive news landscape including internet news sources, blogs, talk radio, network television, cable television and the availability of a news source to challenge or buttress ones beliefs that the public aren’t influencing what and how the news is portrayed? Is it a purely one way street?

    4. Of the actual voting public what’s the percentage of viewers that get their news exclusively from the liberal media? What’s the percentage that gets it from both liberal and conservative view points? What’s the percentage getting their news exclusively from conservative viewpoints? What prevents one set of viewers from changing their news consumption habits? Is selection of media source an indication of enlightenment?

    5. When a person has a set of beliefs does the evidence suggest that conflicting information tend to change those beliefs or tends to harden them?

    6. I take it for granted that the “liberal media” is in fact liberal. Why should I care? Would it be better if the “liberal media” were “conservative media”. Is there such a thing as an unbiased media? I consider answering this with the accusation that the liberal media portrays itself as unbiased as a deflection since it’s so obvious that they are liberal.

    7. If we all agree that the media is liberal, does that negate everything that is reported?

    8. Will we reach the utopia when all media is conservative?

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  30. Ben says:

    Do you have PQ scores for economists? I’d like to cross-reference this with the economists’ track records over the last 10 years so I can decide whether your idea of PQ is poppycock. A lot of people have been proven wrong; a lot of people have been proven right. For example, the “bond vigilantes” and “inflationistas” have been dead wrong over the last few years. Dare I say (I know here comes the rotten fruit) the evil left wing economists have been more right over the last 10 years than the establishment (eg, dominated by the traditional economists who are naturally right of center).

    How does right and wrong fit into your ideas about political slant? Most “right wingers” have favored austerity and deficit reduction over the last 12 months. Most right wingers have also favored monetary policy positions to the right of Milton Friedman. Most “left wingers” have favored fiscal expansion (evil Keynesian socialism).

    No political agenda here, but I speak for the silent rational minority who are less interested in the US-magazine-style soap opera coverage of politics and more interested in what the best policies are to improve the economy.

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  31. Chap says:

    Considering the deal struck to raise the debt ceiling was more right wing than all liberals and even most conservatives would have prefered, isn’t this ‘Left wing media bias’ concern moot?

    Clearly the people in Washington aren’t listening to the feelings of their constituents, so who cares if those constituents are being fed a left wing bias?

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  32. Bill says:

    I dont think there is any doubt that there is a liberal media bias but then how did we get a republican controlled house? The problem with a liberal media bias is their often hyperliberal approach to discourse. Take the recent debt ceiling debates. By covering the issue in such a way that both sides were equally extreme, when republicans clearly were much further from the center, we may be plunged into greater economic hardship. Sometimes the right answer is nowhere near the middle. The insistance that creationism is just as scientifically valid as evolution isnt true, and should not be covered in a balanced way.

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  33. Kingtoots says:

    As economists, you should know that Ben Stein has been wrong about everything. Not just a little or a couple of things, but everything that he has written.

    God help me if I’m so weak minded that “the media” could convince me that Ben Stein is right and I would agree with him.

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  34. Michael Vukovich says:

    Can you be sure that it is not the public influencing the media as much as the media influencing the public? The media is not an isolated system separate from the public. Both are very dynamic and open to influence. In the end everyone I have ever met enjoys watching news sources which generally agree with their POV, so isn’t it possible that the public is really influencing what the media is reporting and how they report it?

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  35. Levi Funk says:

    It seems to me that more and more people are receiving information from other sources than the “main-stream media”. Do you then think this will ultimately benefit the Conservative political parties? or do these alternative outlets have the same PQ bias?

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    • Levi Funk says:

      Also, what would you estimate the PQ for Freakanomics to be? :)

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  36. Simeon Weinraub says:

    “As the title suggests, it has a definite conservative slant. It is not, however, a right-wing rant by any means. Rather, it is a carefully researched and amusingly written book by a highly regarded academic.”

    Highly regarded by whom?

    Not a right-wing rant compared to what?

    There are enough media watchdog organizations that prove the opposite conclusion that I call BS on Groseclose’s entire career. If facts do not align with people you personally agree with, or your political agenda, that is not the same thing as bias. Just like the fact that there is a market for right-wing victimization “non”-fiction, doesn’t make authors of such work credible not their ideas valuable.

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  37. James says:

    Thesis: The average American is an idiot.

    See previous item on web browsers vs intelligence.

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  38. Jim G says:

    How relevant will your study remain as more and more news is simply gleaned from small internet bites of information? Do you see the internet as a means to level the bias, or will it be stronger for liberals or conservative outlets? Finally, do you feel there will be a group emerge that will provide the old style in-depth research that does try to show multiple sides of a story, and do it with facts?

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  39. Sideshow Bill says:

    Why does the majority of members of the NAS and Academia, those who deal with data, tend to lean liberal? Might reality have a “liberal bias?”

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    • Reality Check says:

      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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    • James says:

      Do scientists and scientific academics actually lean liberal? Only for certain values of liberal :-) Particularly those values which exclude the more libertarian aspects: few scientists are apt to care much about a colleague’s racial or ethnic background, to give much credence to orthodox religions, or to get upset about private sexual behavior.

      Though I know quite a few academic scientists, off the top of my head I can’t think of a single one who plays golf. Hiking, skiing, rock climbing, and suchlike are IMHO much more likely to be a scientist’s recreational choice.

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      • Darryl says:

        Strange… During my academic career, all most all the professors I got to know on a personal level were into hiking, skiing, rock climbing, fishing, and even dog sled racing. the only one who was not active is some was a quadriplegic!

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  40. AndrewB says:

    I admire the author for just looking into it and coming out with that thesis. I would hate to think what his intradepartmental political science meetings at UCLA are going to be like for him in the future considering probably most are liberal Democrats. Hope he has tenure already.

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  41. NZ says:

    I have two questions. The first:

    My friends and I have been having this debate for years–not on whether the media is liberal-biased, but why. Two not-necessarily-mutually-exclusive theories have survived:

    1. Compelling storytelling–especially on a tight deadline–tends to produce good guys and bad guys and good vs. evil narratives; it’s easier to identify with a bleeding-heart do-gooder than with a rich CEO who provides tons of jobs, and it’s easier to demonize a big oil company than a progressive spokesperson. And so on.

    2. The types of people who go into media jobs (filmmakers, on-air talent & actors, writers, producers, etc.) tend to be liberal. They graduate from liberal arts programs, which are also liberal. They mostly get feedback from other liberals. The conservative, or to a lesser extent, libertarian viewpoint usually never occurs to them and if it does it’s only as a dark caricature–one they partially helped to create!

    Does your book theorize much on why the media is biased leftward? If so, what’s your take on it? What’s your take on our theories?

    Second question:

    I’m particularly interested in the American public’s attitude toward illegal drugs, especially ones other than marijuana. None of the relevant drug laws were created in response to sound science, but in response to sensationalist media stories about “epidemics” and “national threats” and “deadly enslaving poisons” and so forth. These media stories were often steeped in racist overtones as well. (See just about any 1920s newspaper story about cocaine for examples.) The first federal anti-drug policies (the Harrison Act of 1914 in particular) were drafted and pushed into law by Progressives. So was alcohol prohibition. What do you make of the connection between our anti-drug, prohibitionist attitudes and leftward media bias?

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  42. English Human says:

    Unmitigated political bullshit based on your description – which is unfair to the author of course but inevitable. Is this a late April Fool? During the last thirty years I have moved much to the right, but I can’t catch up with the Right Wing as they have charged off. So if the press stayed in the same position according to the Professor that means they are liberally biased. What he seems to be suggesting is that it’s unfair that they haven’t followed his party, which apart from being special pleading is not science.

    The second set of special pleading is that weird bit about “the average American would have a PQ closer to 25″ – best known as wishful thinking – he cannot know what the outcome of an unknown position would be. It’s also a rather large insult to the intelligence of “the average American voter”.

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  43. Alun says:

    What came first, the liberal media bias or the liberal mindset? Was it a conspiracy? Tacit collusion? Was it consumer driven bias? Is liberal media bias a ratings winner? If there is such a bias why do the republicans ever get into power? Does this bias wane? Are liberals just lazy voters?

    Is Fox just unashamedly biased or is that my liberal bias leading me to a confirmation bias? Cos Glenn Beck crying WAS a low point for the human race for me.

    If it is an observable bias and is the most prevalent form of media, does that mean it most closely reflects the will of the people or are there a shadowy machiavellian group Dan Brown would love to write about? Will it swing to a more right wing bias over time?

    Given the two party US system, what does it matter if there is a bias one way or the other. Bias is a term used to identifiy “Them” not “Us”. Beyond that, anyone who really believes their attitudes come neatly one party’s roof has already sacrificed a lot to begin with to identify themselves as R or D… why do you have to dig deeper and reveal the real tenuous, confabulatory, confirmation-seeking, wanting to belong, peer pressured nature at the core of all people?

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  44. dave says:

    i took the quiz on your website. my PQ came out is nearly equivalent to that of ted kennedy. but i was probably biased because the scenarios identified how each party voted on the issues, which was difficult to ignore. a fairer quiz would not include how each party voted, and more information to make an educated choice.

    my $0.02

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  45. Shane says:

    Any comments on coverage of foreign policy issues? I’ve heard some criticisms from non-American commentators that American media was too compliant in repeating the claims of the Bush administration regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, for example. Or just recently we had some controversy over early coverage of the Norway massacre, with several American TV channels “speculating” (publicly guessing) that the perpetrator was Muslim.

    I’m not sure if such alleged biases can be described as being left or right-wing. But I’d be interested to know what biases, if any, the authors do find.

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  46. Alex says:

    The media has a liberal bias because, as Stephen Colbert has so elegantly put it, “facts have a liberal bias”. If the statement “tax cuts will increase revenue” is construed to be a conservative statement and the statement “tax cuts will not increase revenue” is construed to be a liberal statement, then any responsible media outlet will end up being rated as liberally biased when the report on proposed taxed cuts.

    And, to forestall the obvious response: of course not all things reported by the media are facts. The point is that since the facts more often than not are liberally “biased”, the media becomes biased towards liberalism.

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      Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  47. DaveyNC says:

    Well, here is a nice, timely rant for this article:

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  48. Chris says:

    I’m conflicted. Is bias in the media more reflected:
    1) By what is or isn’t reported. The NYT chooses which stories are worthy of their pages and other papers are inclined to follow the Times. Therefore it seems likely that how stories are picked and what stories are picked is where bias is most important yet most invisible.
    2) Giving equal weight to nonsense… e.g. climate change deniers, default is no big deal groupies, etc. Giving equal weight to stupidity seems terribly destructive and ‘bias’ to appear non-judgmental is a greater problem.

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  49. DaveyNC says:

    Oh look! Another recent example!

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    • Jonathan says:

      Why is this biased? Rand Paul won’t compromise and liberal democrats won’t fight.

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  50. Barb Busch says:

    Do journalism schools tend to have a liberal slant?

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  51. Jonathan says:

    An alternative empirical finding on media bias was released as a working paper this week by the NBER

    The Balanced U.S. Press
    Riccardo Puglisi, James M. Snyder, Jr.
    NBER Working Paper No. 17263
    Issued in July 2011
    NBER Program(s): IO POL

    Abstract: We propose a new method for measuring the relative ideological positions of newspapers, voters, interest groups, and political parties. The method uses data on ballot propositions. We exploit the fact that newspapers, parties, and interest groups take positions on these propositions, and the fact that citizens ultimately vote on them. We find that, on average, newspapers in the U.S. are located almost exactly at the median voter in their states. Newspapers also tend to be centrist relative to interest groups.

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  52. Jonathan says:

    How do you reconcile the fact that watchers of Fox News (presumably an outlier in your bias argument) show up as the most uninformed in surveys on various topics?

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  53. David says:

    Curious that a conservative would conclude that the average person would sway conservative if the ‘liberal media’ weren’t a factor.

    IME, people are not swayed by the media, they choose to listen to or watch the media that fits their viewpoint.

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  54. jason says:

    How on earth are Pelosi and Frank even approaching the same distance from center that Bachmann reaches? How could anyone describe them as the pinnacle of liberalism? They aren’t even the pinnacle of congressional liberalism! Give PQ 0 to someone that is, you know, actually liberal, and then redo the math. The fact that Tea Party candidates can run as mainstream Republicans should be evidence enough that equating D and R with liberal and conservative is going to work poorly. If you give PQ 0 to, for example, Cynthia McKinney, then the media shows up as significantly more centrist (because it is =D.)

    Sen. Franken covered this with greater depth and eloquence than I could hope to muster in ‘The Truth’ years ago, and the distortion used to sell the ‘evil liberal media’ lie does not appear to have changed a bit.

    All of that said, I love being infuriated by intentional distortion, so I’ll be reading the book anyway. Advertisment successful.

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  55. Ezekiel says:

    Is it true that Ms Pelosi and Ms Bachmann are 100 and 0 percentage scores, respectively, in the PQ ratings?

    If so, can you explain how your analysis prevents false equivalencies? Is Ms. Bachmann 20% more conservative than Ms Pelosi is liberal? Or vice versa? Does the floor/ceiling percentage prevent absolute rankings of individual agents at the poles?

    And can this constrain the overall findings?

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    • Jestak says:

      Actually, 0 and 100 are not hard boundaries in Groseclose’s method. Michele Bachmann has a “PQ” (actually a career ADA rating with some kind of time adjustment) of about -4. Former Rep. Ron Dellums of California has a “PQ” of about 107.

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  56. Paul Krugman's blog sucks says:

    How about a long explanation of how a PQ is calculated?

    We know from history that left-wing and right-wing politics are arbitrary collections of narrow rules and fashions, independent of tradition or moral principle. What explains the synchronization of all liberal media and a liberal electorate?

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  57. Byron Gardner says:

    Do you believe any media bias can be expressed as a search for truth or something else?

    Would you be willing to conduct a study on the amount and frequency of “true” statements given by media outlets?

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  58. Benjamin Childers says:

    While I have not read the book but will in due time I find it hard to believe that your average American would have a PQ of 25 with the elimination of all bias in the media (which would be the only true way to make an argument in your book, keeping FOX news around would only ruin the argument). We would be much more likely to vote in our best economic interest since we would not have the bias media focusing on the horserace and hot button issues. This would drive poor white Americans that continually vote Republican to vote Democrat because it is in their best economic interest. Meanwhile the middle class would continue to vote Democrat and Republicans would never win a single seat except for in districts that are overran with upper-middle and upper class voters. That would be the consequence of a neutral media.

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  59. Becky says:

    I notice left-leaning media bias by what they do NOT cover, as much as what they DO cover. How can you quantify something that is “missing?”

    For example, the US media has covered the “heat-wave” (summer) in the south/east US, but never mentions the record cold in South America, South Africa and Australia. Another example is when unemployment figures are re-calculated and found to be worse than they first said, they are never the front-page news that the original numbers were (unless it’s a conservative president in office).

    Things that do not make score points for their agenda are omitted, and things that DO score points are exaggerated. How can you evaluate every story as to its impact on a left/right agenda, and then calculate it’s coverage per media outlet?

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    • Ptom says:

      Of course, we also need to keep in mind the exclusions on the right-biased side of the equation, too. How many pieces in the WSJ or on Fox have we seen about the fire-bombing of a democratic PAC headquarters in WI or the multiple bombings of women’s health clinics in the last few months? At least they covered the “glitter-bombing” of Bachman’s clinic…

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    • James says:

      “… the US media has covered the “heat-wave” (summer) in the south/east US, but never mentions the record cold in South America, South Africa and Australia.”

      So how is this a “liberal” bias? Sure, it’s a local bias: how often do US media cover non-disastrous weather in other countries, anyway? And how often does the Australian media cover US weather?

      Indeed, local bias in weather reporting goes a lot further than that. Even excluding daily forecasts, I’d imagine my local (northern Nevada) media devotes at least 25 times as much space to local weather as to anything east of the continental divide.

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  60. Doug says:

    What has been the reaction of the mainstream media? Are you getting invites to the Today Show, GMA, etc.? Is book being reviewed by the NY Times and Washington Post?

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  61. Wil Rondini says:

    I’m interested in the political quotent (PQ) as it being completely objective makes or breaks your study. America is so large that off the top of my head there seem to be far too many variables to come up with one all encompassing average PQ.

    I assume you take into account the fact that different age groups have vastly different PQs. It’s obvious that the average PQ would fluctuate with every generation.

    Have you/could you pinpoint times in American history where the PQ levels have radically changed and perhaps discover if its cyclical?

    I’d really love it if we could forecast the next 20 years of the average American’s PQ level. If it doesn’t get higher I think I’ll lose my mind.

    Also I’d like to see a chart of where one’s PQ puts you on a political spectrum if at all possible.

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  62. Carlos says:

    Ridiculous! Putting Michele Bachman and Jim Demint on one end of the scale and Barney Frank and Nancy Peolosi on the other is equivalent to saying that “the middle” in 1940 was half-way between Adolph Hitler and Franklin Roosevelt. You are equating two far, far right ideologues and and comparing them with two establishment, moderate liberals. The whole premise of the book is ridiculous. It is little wonder that “Political Science” is considered trash science. It sure is political but it aint science!

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  63. Daniel says:

    As far as I can tell the single area where the media is most out-of-touch with mainstream Americans is with respect to same-sex marriage.

    The issue has come before various states, red and blue, in referendums more than thirty times in the last several years and every single time voters upheld the traditional definition of marriage, often amending their state constitution to do so. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed recently by the Democratic Clinton administration with something like 7-1 margins in the House and Senate.

    Meanwhile, the media almost universally conveys the traditional stance on marriage as a discriminatory one. This discriminatory stance would describe nearly every country in the world, almost every faith group and culture, and almost every person who ever lived. No matter. No rational basis for traditional marriage is ever allowed to be heard in mainstream media.

    The fact that the state has a social interest in linking children to their mothers and fathers (and every child on Earth has a mother and a father after all)… The fact that marriage as a legal construct was created to support responsible procreation… The fact that marriage law has nothing at all to do with whether people have the freedom to form same-sex unions…

    Reasons for traditional marriage beyond discrimination are almost never even allowed airtime.

    Here is one pro-traditional-marriage group expressing frustration with media bias.

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    • Loothor says:

      “Reasons for traditional marriage beyond discrimination are almost never even allowed airtime”

      That’s ridiculous… you are trying to make a lack of interest in a non-controversial subject sound like a conspiracy against heterosexual marriages.

      A) No one is arguing AGAINST “traditional” marriage. I have heard of no attempts to pass laws making marriage between a man and a woman illegal.

      B) The reason “reasons for traditional marriage” are not widely covered in the media is because they’re not news, they’re not controversial, and they’re so commonly understood as to be uninteresting to most people. Do you see a lot of media coverage devoted to other non-controversial topics like “reasons not to assault children” or “reasons to respect your neighbors property?” The media is a commodity, they earn a living by selling facts and opinions that people have interest in.

      C) There is plenty of representation of traditional marriage in the media. I could go on for pages with lists of television shows, movies and books about traditional couples, marriage ceremonies, etc.

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  64. Owinok says:

    If a liberal bias does exist, is it not true that on the PQ spectrum, there’s a conservative bias too? What kind of world would it create?

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  65. William Nuesslein says:

    Bill O’Reillly’s rhetoric contributed, in my opinion, to the murder of Dr. Tiller. If Groseclose believes Mr. O’Reilly epitomisises the reasonable man, then Mr. groseclose’s book belongs in a garbage can.

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  66. Jordan says:

    How do you parse out “bias?” Couldn’t it simply be the case that being informed tends to make people more liberal? It wouldn’t be the most outlandish alternative, and it would sync up nicely with the fact that faculties are generally liberal too. It doesn’t have to be some insidious force – one end of the political spectrum could just fit better with facts than the other. By definition, one kind of has to be more rooted in reality than the other.

    In the words of the great Stephen Colbert, “Reality has a well-known liberal bias.”

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  67. Zach says:

    My question is: how has the PQ range changed over the years?
    Say I’m the “average American” with a PQ of 50. Now say the liberal “100” remains the same, while the conservative “0”, by marginalizing centrists and adopting the extreme views of the tea party, are now more of a -50, or for arguments sake, a -100. Now adjusting the scale back to 0-100 and suddenly I’m a pretty extreme liberal at 75.

    Rachel Maddow recently had a very good piece that the right has shifted so far right that anyone with a previous centrist position how appears liberal. Everything I’ve read has said that Barack Obama is now behaving like moderate Republican. His “socialist” health care bill used many policies put forth by bob dole and republicans from the 90s.

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    • Ptom says:

      Indeed. I just took the PQ survey on the website and was struck that every question referenced congressional activities of the past several years, and nearly every one was a Democratic proposal.

      Where are the questions reflecting previous activities? If I agreed with “Obama-care” today, and the Republican proposal that nearly matched it from back in the Clinton era, do they cancel out? If I approve of raising the debt-ceiling today, and of the same action back when it was the Republican Party’s “responsibility” (e.g., 2006), do those cancel out?

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  68. Jake says:

    The comments section is a window into what’s wrong with America…long on speculation and short on curiosity. Lots of surely Barney Frank isn’t that liberal-s, surely liberal doesn’t mean liberal-s, surely the author is a dishonest and biased to the right-s, and surely the average america is more like me-s; so my question is: why bother?

    Why write a book like this knowing that any attempt at identifying liberal/conservative bias will immediately result in a dismissal by the afflicted camp?

    Is ‘bias’ a bad thing? Doesn’t ‘bias’ help frame–explain the importance, answer the ‘why?’–the information we consume? If ‘bias’ is bad, how do you reduce ‘bias’ without reducing journalism?


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  69. Peter says:

    Left or right bias is irrellevant. It doesn’t address that while tragic, the Casey Anthony trial was headline news and the overall sensationalism of the news and the overall journalistic malaize that must exist to perpetuate it. It doesn’t address why there aren’t regular updates on Japan, the Gulf Coast etc and the short attention span of the media. It doesn’t address confirmation bias. It doesn’t address that more people care about the news from TMZ and ESPN than other national/international news. Media bias would matter if the media was worth paying attention to.

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  70. Tim L says:

    I find this amusing because liberal and conservative is basically left and right, left and right wing ideologies are effecively economic stances, they don’t account for anarchistic vs authoritarian beliefs. So my question is, why did you decide to write this book on the basis of left and right? How does authoritarianism effect the PQ rating with regards to left and right?

    Internationally speaking the professional politicians of America are right and far right.

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    • Jestak says:

      Indeed, one of the questions I’m going to add is why did Groseclose use a one-dimensional statistic to try to “measure” ideology. Most serious students of the topic seem to agree that, if it is possible to quantify ideology, you have to use a multi-dimensional approach.

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  71. Tom in Motown says:

    I haven’t read the book, but something in this brief description strikes me as odd. If the PQ has any meaning at all, and if it has absolute endpoints anchored by Barney Frank on the left side (100) and Michelle Bachmann on the right (0), then how on earth is a voter mean score of 50–right smack-dab in the middle–an indication of liberal media bias?! This makes no sense to me. On what basis does the author conclude that a “real” middle-of-the-road score would be a 25? I think I smell a rank and steaming pile of BS in this thesis. Unless there is some rational, objective criteria for drawing such a conclusion, it seems like the author is suffering from some conservative bias himself.

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  72. Michael says:

    Please explain the apparent conflict between the predicted average American’s PQ of 25 with various polling data suggesting that most Americans support traditionally liberal institutions such as Medicare and publicly funded education, aren’t very religious and are now about evenly split on gay marriage, and would prefer a wealth distribution closer to that of Sweden’s than our own.

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    • jonathan says:

      Good question. I think the author would hold that the widespread existence of those beliefs and opinions you cite are the result of the bias in the media.

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  73. fred says:

    any intelligent person can see through media bias and make up their own minds. the ones who listen to biased media-Obermann, MSNBC, Rush, FOX, Hennity and read the Chicago Trib have already made up their minds.

    if media bias didn’t exist, John McCain would have defeated Barack Obama in the 2008 election by 56%-42%, rather than losing 53%-46%.

    John McCain lost for one reason, his running mate that scared off all the middle of the road undecideds with her right wing, half baked rhetoric

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    • Loothor says:

      “if media bias didn’t exist, John McCain would have defeated Barack Obama in the 2008 election by 56%-42%, rather than losing 53%-46%”

      C’mon… you completely undermine your point by making up a statistic about a hypothetical situation that no one could possibly know the outcome of.

      Then, to make it even worse, you go on to contradict yourself by stating, “John McCain lost for one reason, his running mate that scared off all the middle of the road undecideds with her right wing, half baked rhetoric” right after blaming his loss on the media rather than his running mate.

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  74. Randy says:

    Very curious about the presumed standard around the PQ. How did 25 get established as the “norm” without a liberal bias? Also, would love to know how you draw the line between cause and effect. Maybe the “Liberal Media” is reflecting the “Liberal Masses”; of course when your standard is Bill O’Reilly, isn’t anyone who believes in improving government versus eliminating it a liberal?

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  75. Loothor says:

    I’m pretty sure that any author who sets out to write a book about “liberal media bias” is working to back up an opinion rather than taking an unbiased approach to attempting to measure the direction and effect of media on politics.

    I don’t particularly like any book that attempts to present an opinion as fact. I would say the very existence of Mr. Groseclose’s book (a piece of “conservative” media by a political science professor in a supposedly “liberal” institution) is a repudiation of the “liberal media bias” he purports to be proving.

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  76. Doug says:

    Isn’t is possible that reality itself has the liberal bias, and the media is just reporting reality? There’s no reason to assume that the talking points of Conservatives and the talking points of Liberals are equally valid.

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  77. Gary says:

    All journalists have sets of multiple biases – political, religious, economic, educational, scientific, aesthetic, cultural, etc. How would you construct a “nutritional label” for them so that recipients of their products (whether printed, broadcast, or blogged) could have a better idea of their motivations and blind spots? A single number PQ, although simple, may be boiling it down to far.

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  78. Dan says:

    A number of comments suggest that ‘if you are better informed, you will lean more to the left.’

    There are major areas where conventional left-of-center views are just wrong. One that comes to mind is the left’s insistence that differences in outcomes must be due to discrimination and have no other cause. Can ability and motivation and preferences be unequally distributed? Of course. After all, almost all features are spread about unequally among populations.

    The media is often finding differential outcomes and take this and prima facie evidence of discrimination, and calling an urgent need for a cure.

    The solutions are heavy-handed, and typically involve actual discrimination based on race, gender or other characteristics, where there may have been none before.

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  79. Matt says:

    What is the weakest part of your data? (The purpose of this question is just to measure how objectively you’re able to look at your own research)

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0
  80. conchis says:

    1. How does Groseclose respond to John Gaspar’s paper claiming that:

    [Groseclose’s] fi nding of a strong liberal bias seems suspect in light of my reanalysis. The fi ndings presented here indicate liberal media outlets during the early 1990s, but conservative media outlets by the beginning of the next decade.

    2. How does he reconcile his findings of liberal bias with contrary claims in papers such as this one by Riccardo Puglisi and James Snyder, which seems to provide a more direct (and therefore potentially more reliable) measure of bias than PQ:

    We propose a new method for measuring the relative ideological positions of newspapers, voters, interest groups, and political parties. The method uses data on ballot propositions. We exploit the fact that newspapers, parties, and interest groups take positions on these propositions, and the fact that citizens ultimately vote on them. We find that, on average, newspapers in the U.S. are located almost exactly at the median voter in their states. Newspapers also tend to be centrist relative to interest groups.

    (h/t the monkey cage.

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    • Jonathan says:

      Thanks for the link to the monkey cage. Lot’s of interesting discussion (and links) to methodological critiques.

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    • Jestak says:

      You’re right to take note of John Gasper’s paper. He finds that Groseclose’s work has, in econometrician’s terms, a severe sensitivity problem.

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  81. Sally says:

    I’ve already added this book to my list to read. I’m looking forward to it. I think anybody with a working brain has known that the media is run by Hollywood liberals with an anti-American agenda to push.

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  82. Horatio says:

    Can you share some stories with obvious examples. Stories such as one I recall from the Clinton years. Congress passed and President Clinton signed a Dairy Price support bill. Headline 1, Clinton Supports Pro-Farmer Bill, Headline 2, Republicans Pass Anti-Consumer Legislation. Both are true but one certainly puts a positive spin while the other a negative on the same action.

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  83. Maurizio Camenzuli says:

    I’ve worked for many years in newsrooms in Malta (Europe).
    My experience has been that journalists are collectively more left-wing than the general population and this is happening all over the world.
    My hypothesis is that young graduates in subjects like the physical sciences, mathematics, accounting and economics easily find work elsewhere and are not in the least attracted to journalism. These are the people who would be centrists or have a right-wing bias.
    With centrists and right-wingers working elsewhere, the journalistic field is left open for left-wingers, mostly graduating in journalism studies. They generally lack understanding of basic economics and accounting, for example, and find news about finance and business very challenging. If they have previous work experience, it would generally be in government or volunteering, not private business.
    These journalists then focus on ‘social’ news and the subjects they understand.
    This would not be bad if it were balanced with other interests of centrists and right-wingers working in newsrooms, but there are too few of them.

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  84. Zach B says:

    Amazon’s product description for your book says you have “spent years constructing precise, quantitative measures of the slant of media outlets.” I imagine this means you have some sort of objective, codified version of samples of reporting. I’m not the first commenter to notice you chose the Liberal Conservative spectrum to map out bias. If you have objective representations in your data set, can you just as easily produce conclusions about bias in other spectrums? Like…

    Libertarian Statist
    Corporate Hippie
    Xenophobe Xenophile
    Patriotic Treacherous
    Yankee Southerner
    Union Management
    Urban Rural
    Religious Atheist
    Data influenced Emotion influenced
    Conservative 100 years ago Liberal 100 years ago

    I took the PQ test on your web site. It is based on how you would vote compared to politicians. Using the debt ceiling vote as an example, it seems to me this could present problems. Some liberal politicians voted no because there was no revenue increase. Some conservative politicians voted no because the cuts are cuts from projected spending, not actual spending, so we are still going to spend more next year than we did this year. If you calculate PQ from voting records, how do you tease out rationale for a vote?

    Also related to the online PQ test: The votes referenced seem to be mostly related to spending. If a person is fiscally conservative but socially liberal, wouldn’t they test as conservative with your questions?

    I’ve heard it suggested that employees of the New York Times do not think they are liberal because they have no conservative friends to compare their views with. Do you have any friends that scored above 90 on your scale?

    Have you evaluated sites that claim to be impartial reviews? I’m thinking of and Both have been accused of having a liberal or conservative bend depending on who is making the accusation. In my opinion, each individual piece these sites have produced is unbiased, but the choices they make on which lies to address reveal something. What do you think?

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  85. Russ says:

    Why does your “PQ” test show how democrats and replublicans voted on each of the questions? I know it biased my answers, and I think it would bias most peoples answers.

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  86. Russ says:

    here’s a link to the test –

    all it does is test to see if you agree with republicans or democrats, which is not a true measure of conservative versus liberal, which is what I was hoping to see.

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    • Mary R. says:

      This is a more succinct version of my point later. It is more of an affinity test for the parties. As such, it can test whether you are pro-Republican, anti-Republican, pro-Democrat and/or anti-Democrat, but not liberal vs. conservative. For a centrist, it will devolve into which party you dislike least.

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  87. Paul says:

    During the depression, the overwhelming majority of newspapers opposed Franklin Roosevelt. Yet he won 3 re-elections easily. Does that mean that without the opposition of the newspapers, he would have won even more easily?

    Also, at least one survey has shown that conservatives overwhelmingly prefer Fox News to other channels, while liberals are split among NBC, CBS, ABC, CNN and MSNBC.

    Finally, without support of the media, why would any Republican vote for John McCain in the primaries? Many of his previous views were contrary to those of the majority of GOP primary voters

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  88. Mary R. says:

    I read the first chapter and took the quiz. Is PQ indeed based on the quiz questions – which were all about recent specific Congressional votes? I found this to be a very unsatisfactory way to detect political leanings. If this is the premise of your PQ, I am totally unconvinced of its value. These are complex bills with many components. Your descriptions were short, simplistic, and seemed slanted rightward to me. Even though I consider myself a centrist and an Independent, I was irritated enough by this to select against this on several questions.

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    • Jestak says:

      Groseclose’s “PQ’s” for politicians are simply their ADA voting ratings, with some kind of adjustment done to allow them to be compared over time.

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  89. kvom says:

    Can we assume that conservatives tend to access conservative media and liberals vice-versa? If so, then people are likely to be unaffected by the other camp. So why is a “liberal bias” a big deal? Is it because there are more linberal media outlets than conservative?

    I’m a center-right individual, but the newspapers I access the most frequently both have liberal editorial boards: Atlanta Journal-Constitution and the NYT. I like to read the comments that readers post to the NYT columnists, comments that are overwhelmingly liberal rants.

    I’m happy that PBS Newshour is still available; I feel it’s pretty unbiased, but would like feedback. In any case, I like to make my own judgements.

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  90. Matt says:

    “The average American voter, he argues, has a PQ of 50.”-How does one determine this?

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    • Jestak says:

      He gets this number by 1) assuming that the center of the electorate is going to be ideologically identical to the center of Congress, and 2) calculating the average ADA score for Congress over a period of 10 years, 1995-2004.

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  91. Russ Martin says:

    Has this dynamic changed over time with the emergence of the Fox News Channel, talk radio and the availability of so many alternative sources of information?

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  92. donnie says:

    right, liberal/left wing ideas tend to be less intuitive than conservative/right wing ones, but also tend to be more ‘correct’. For example, the idea that you cut a government deficit by spending less is straight forward. The idea of spending to stimulate the economy takes a bit more understanding.

    Unbias media run by intelligent people should educate the masses and thus make them a bit more liberal. Although it appears their not doing a great job of that in the US just now.

    Or, to put it another way, this study shows that people are stupid and the media makes them a bit less so.

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  93. Jestak says:

    I have a number of questions that have occurred to me while reading and thinking about Prof. Groseclose’s book:

    1) Most serious students of political ideology recognize that, to the extent that it can be quantified at all, you have to define it in multiple dimensions, the way that, to give a simple example, the well-known Nolan Chart does. Why, then, do you use a one-dimensional statistic, ADA voting ratings, as a measure of ideology?

    2) Politician’s voting records are driven by factors other than ideology (e.g., the spike in Arlen Specter’s ADA score when he became a Democrat), and they don’t capture significant ideological differences between politicians (e.g., Jesse Helms, “Senator No,” and Orrin Hatch, known for his long-time collaboration on legislation with Ted Kennedy, had almost identical ADA scores). Given that, why do you use a voting record rating as measure of ideology?

    3) You present numerous statistics in your book–virtually all of them are estimates, not precise calculations. Why do you not present any data at all on the margins of error for your estimates of “PQ’s” and “SQ’s,” or of “media lambda” and “media mu?”

    4) You determine the PQ of the center of the American electorate by equating it with the center of Congress. Why not determine where the center is by doing some direct surveys, as this would be more accurate?

    5) For about 15 years now, the media watch group FAIR has done an annual survey of think tank citations in the major media outlets. They have consistently found that the media cite conservative or center-right think tanks far more often than they cite progressive or center-left ones–the ratio of citations is generally far greater than 2:1. Why do you not mention this research at all in your book? Doesn’t their research contradict your claims?

    I’ve got to go right now–more questions later if I have time.

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  94. Jestak says:

    Okay, a few more questions:

    1) Your underlying model for the citation of think tanks/advocacy groups by politicians clearly makes the assumption that when a politician cites an organization, he or she does so out of broad ideological agreement with the organization (e.g., when someone cites the ACLU, they do it because they are committed civil libertarians). Aren’t the estimated “PQ’s” for many organizations inconsistent with that assumption?

    A few specific examples:
    -the liberal ACLU has a “PQ” of 49.8, a tiny bit to the right of center.
    -the moderately conservative Rand Corporation has a “PQ” of 60.4, misidentifying it as supposedly liberal
    -the NRA has a “PQ” of 45.9, putting this right-wing, anti-gun control group much closer to the center than Handgun Control (“PQ” of 77.3)–these numbers would mean that a publication with balanced coverage of the gun control issue could be falsely diagnosed as “slanted to the left” by your method.

    2) I’m sure you’re now aware of John Gasper’s forthcoming paper, in which he shows convincingly that your empirical work has a severe sensitivity problem. If you were still in the process of writing your book, what changes would you make to take Gasper’s analysis into account? How would you revise or modify your conclusions?

    3) In your book, you pay virtually no attention to the research by communications scholars on the issue of media bias. Paul Waldman has noted that there are in the neighborhood of 200 peer-reviewed studies of this issue. Why do you disregard virtually all of this scholarship?

    4) Like you, I have a Ph.D. in the social sciences (from UCLA in economics, actually). One thing we have both learned is that empirical research in the social sciences is filled with imperfections, limitations and uncertainties. We don’t achieve anything like the precision that physicists demonstrate when they, for instance, precisely determine the atomic weight of an element. In your book, why don’t you explain these uncertainties and ambiguities to yoru readers? Why do you instead substitute a certitude about your results that you simply have to know isn’t justifiable?

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  95. P.Peterson says:

    Bill O’Reilly at PQ 25, is this a logarithmic scale or a gamma function?

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  96. Ardvaark says:

    Is it possible that a “liberal bias” represents points of view that more closely cohere with science?

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  97. Day Brown says:

    When my new neighbor was busted, the Tampa Tribune printed his photo under “Teacher busted for drugs”; but when it was realized the drugs were left in the house by the previous tenant, no correction was made. When the local Hippy paper printed the truth, that office was trashed in a drug search. I saw the same in New Orleans, where that alternative paper office was trashed twice by law enforcement for telling the truth about drugs on the street, and saw it again when my barn was searched and photos of haz mat suits carrying lab equipment was called “The Biggest Meth Lab Ever in Northern Arkansas”. Only there wasnt any meth.

    I could go on citing mis-representations of the drug war, or Afghanistan, or the debt crisis, global warming…. anything that creates sensationalism drives up ratings and thereby ad revenues & profits gets coverage while the real truth is just too boring.

    Machiavelli said an intractable political problem is one that is not properly understood. Media does all it can to prevent that real understanding because when that happens, we all move on.

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  98. Kevin says:

    Ah yes… If we weren’t exposed to the “liberal” media we’d all be 8% more Republican, remove exposure to a “liberal” educational system, and you’d get another 8%. Remove exposure to “liberal” books, another 8%. Remove exposure to other countries, people of other ethnicities, people at different socioeconomic levels, etc, another 8%. If only everyone could be kept locked in our houses with exposure to noone but people just like us, and “non-biased” media outlets like fox news. We could all return to our “natural” conservative state along with great thinkers like Bill O’Reilly. Honestly, I would like to read the book so I could pick this guys rationale apart piece by piece, but the premise is so ludicris compared to my own experience that I would feel guilty about giving this guy a platform.

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  99. Randle Reece says:

    Tuesday all-day Nielsens:

    Fox News + CNBC + Fox Business News = 1.7 million
    CNN + MSNBC + HLN = 1.3 million

    Tuesday prime-time Nielsens:

    Fox News = 2.5 million
    CNN + MSNBC + HLN = 2.3 million

    The number of liberal/conservative news outlets does not matter. The consumption of them does. People who want steak will walk on by a hundred vegan restaurants.

    Real questions are what % of the populace is open to being persuaded by opposing points of view, and how many of them vote. Enough to sway elections?

    It is simplistic to think that news media bias is the reason why many people vote Democrat. People who gravitate to media that confirm their existing beliefs are not victims of media bias; they want media bias. And most people inherit their political beliefs.

    Over the postwar generations, the predominant migration has been away from liberalism, not toward it. The percentages of Americans who identify with labor unions, who oppose protectionism, who support lower taxation of the wealthy, almost a linear downward progression over a long span of time. The author portrays this movement as an inexorable march toward right thinking, despite the furious headwind of the illogical liberal media hordes. What has developed in my lifetime is an ever-larger, increasingly homogeneous conservative thought leadership, promulgated across myriad media channels, dominating highly consumed channels such as cable TV news, talk radio and syndicated opinion columns. This group rarely bickers among themselves, has remarkable ability to stay on message, and practices a systematic demonization of its opposition reminiscent of the “party newspapers” of the 1800s.

    News media need to be biased, as competently as they can express cogent points of view that do not portray all views as equally valid. Let the consumer decide, and consumers do. People migrate toward the news media they view as consistent with their own views.

    But there is a huge difference between bias and fairness. When Fox News or Dan Rather tries to spin news instead of being honest about how it might conflict with their previous versions of the truth, they move from news to propaganda.

    Intentionally minimizing the significance of important news because it hurts one’s prior point of view, that’s unethical bias. My impression is that Fox News is guilty of this practice more often than the New York Times is, but I have no evidence to support that. Often, Fox News or Rush or Beck leave me with the impression that they define their world views as the opposite of whatever their targets are saying, regardless of what they’re saying. I cannot look to them for thought leadership, because often they are just cheering for their team. When news developments turn wild, I want an honest evaluation, not a clever way of using this news against the president. And I certainly don’t want a news source to dig a hole in the backyard and bury any news that makes its point of view look bad.

    What I ask of all news media, right now:

    Where have you been since January 2009? Where were you while President Obama focused on implementing vast new regulatory schemes and drawing up plans for a massive new health care bureaucracy? Where were you while Tea Party candidates were stirring up so much anger that it actually disrupted economic recovery? Where were you when the Recovery Act treated the country’s problems as just a temporary dent in consumption? Did you talk about how the Recovery Act did nothing but create “zombie jobs” that would end when the stimulus did? Did you focus on how the president and Congress, in the middle of a recession, increased the cost of labor and actually provided incentives to accelerate the substitution of capital for labor in this country? Did you notice how S&P’s politically charged US debt rating downgrade once again drew the country’s attention away from the growth problem and put it back on debt? Did you talk about how economic growth is more important to the debt / GDP ratio than changing the debt inflow is?

    Did anyone in the media ever recognize that Greenspan-era easy money did nothing to solve the dangerous decline in positive-ROI domestic investment opportunities for American businesses? That easy money + too few attractive investments = bubble? No, our Internet and real estate bubbles even today are portrayed as something perpetrated on good people by a few bad men.

    Conservative media are too busy talking down the economy from now till election day. Liberal media are all over the lot, but they tend to portray business profits and jobs as inversely correlated. Who in our country is the advocate of growth? Who is pushing the government’s role as investor in long-payback-period initiatives to build new growth drivers for the US economy?

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