How Biased Is Your Media? Full Transcript

Glenn BECK: Glenn Beck. I’m an entrepreneur. I am a reluctant, believe it or not, commentator. And dad. 

Stephen DUBNER: All right, now to the theme of our conversation today — when I say media bias, you say what?

BECK: Yes.

 

[THEME]

 

ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media: This is FREAKONOMICS RADIO.  Today, how biased is your media? And how do we know? Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

 

DUBNER: Let’s say that Glenn Beck is right. That the news media is biased — whatever exactly that means. Now, before you start foaming at the mouth — because I know that’s what you’re going to do — let me just say that you’ll also hear from someone on the other side of the aisle, someone who sees things very differently.

 

 

Andrew ROSENTHAL: I don’t know where to [1] begin in describing how completely ridiculous I think that is. I mean, I…

 

DUBNER: Pick a spot and begin.

 

[2] ROSENTHAL: Well. I mean I don’t…

 

DUBNER: That’s Andrew Rosenthal.

 

ROSENTHAL: I’m the editorial page editor of The New York Times. Which means I am in charge of the editorials.

 

DUBNER: We’ll hear more from Rosenthal later. But first let’s get back to the assertion that media bias is real and that it’s a real problem. How do you prove that? How do you measure something like media bias, rather than just opine or bloviate about it? Here’s Steve Levitt, he’s my Freakonomics friend and co-author:

 

Steve [3] LEVITT: So measuring media bias is a really difficult endeavor because unlike what economists usually study, which are numbers and quantities, media bias is all expressed in words. And so, in the last five or ten years, there have been some really tremendous advances in how we think about text as data, so how we take words and transform words into quantitative measures. And at the forefront of this endeavor have been people like Jeff Milyo and Tim Groseclose, and my colleagues Jesse Shapiro and Matt Gentzkow. And so, take the Groseclose and Milyo work, for instance, what they did was they wanted to figure out how to compare media sources like The Wall Street  Journal or The New York Times or Fox News, how liberal or conservative those outlets were compared to, say, politicians.

 

GROSECLOSE: So, there are twenty media outlets that I examined. Also, the original article had a co-author, Jeff Milyo .

 

DUBNER: That’s Tim Groseclose.

 

GROSECLOSE: I’m a professor of political science and economics at UCLA.

 

DUBNER: Groseclose wanted to see if he could answer questions like: [4] How does the  average article in The New York Times, with its supposedly liberal slant, compare to the average speech by a Democratic heavyweight like Harry Reid? And, similarly, how does coverage on Fox News, with its supposedly conservative slant, compare to the average speech by someone like Michele Bachmann? To make comparisons like this, Groseclose had to start with what he knew, with what was easy to quantify: that is, the political leanings of politicans themselves. So, to that end, he assigned each Congressmember a score, which he called their Political Quotient, or PQ.

 

GROSECLOSE: This is just a way to say precisely how liberal someone is. So a hundred is very liberal, it’s about a Nancy Pelosi, zero is Michele Bachmann. These are all based on roll call votes in Congress, and in fact I let the Americans for Democratic Action pick the roll call votes for me. This is a liberal interest group, and with [5] each roll call vote the ADA decides whether the yay or the nay alternative is liberal.

 

DUBNER: Now, if you were listening carefully, you heard Groseclose say he “let” the liberal ADA set the standard for each Congressperson’s Political Quotient, or PQ. Which might make you wonder about Groseclose’s own PQ. So before moving forward, let’s back up a bit. As part of this research project, Groseclose wrote a [6] quiz that anyone can take to assess his or her own PQ.

 

GROSECLOSE: My hunch is that if you and Steve Levitt took my PQ, my best guess is that you’d turn out to be kind of left-leaning moderates.

 

DUBNER: Yeah, Levitt put himself at about a forty-five.

 

GROSECLOSE: Is that right? I would have predicted fifty-five or sixty.

 

DUBNER: But he didn’t actually take your test. I think he guesstimated. And I’d probably put myself at, and again, I haven’t taken it either yet, I’d probably put myself at about fifty-five or sixty. You’re probably right on there. [7] So together we’re right down the middle.

 

GROSECLOSE: And I say that my political quotients is a thirteen, which means that I’m very much on the conservative end, not quite Michele Bachmann, but kind of near John Boehner, Mitch McConnell.

 

DUBNER: Give us some well-known politicians and what their PQ’s are, keeping in mind that a hundred would be pure liberal, and zero would be pure conservative, right?

 

GROSECLOSE: Right, so, yeah, like Nancy Pelosi, Barney Frank would be about a hundred. Barack Obama is not the most liberal on the scale. Barack Obama is about an eighty-eight. Hilary Clinton was something like an eighty-seven point nine. They were almost exactly tied on the scale. Joe Biden would be something like an eighty-five, eighty-four. Harry Reid, eighty. Joe Lieberman was a seventy-four. Now, I computed two PQ’s for Joe Lieberman, one when he was a Democrat one when he was an Independent. They’re almost exactly the same. I think when he was a Democrat it was like seventy-four point seven, as an Independent a seventy-four. So he moved just a teeniest, teeniest bit right after he switched from Democrat to Independent.

 

DUBNER: Okay, so Groseclose had given each politician a PQ, or Political Quotient, with 100 representing a hardcore liberal and zero a hardcore conservative. Now, to make the connection between the politicians’ leanings and the leanings of media outlets, he needed to take an intermediate step. This’ll be a little confusing at first, but bear with me. The intermediate step was to take more than 150 think tanks and interest groups and assign each of them a Political Quotient.

[“The Center for American Progress, The Heritage Foundation, The Brookings Institution.”]

 

DUBNER: So, now, having determined a Political Quotient for each of these think tanks, Groseclose could start to measure media bias. How? Well, he simply counted how many times the name of each of these think tanks and interest groups were cited in the twenty major media outlets he was studying. So, let’s say that a given newspaper cited a group like the liberal Citizens for Tax Justice much more often than it cited the conservative Americans for Tax Reform. That would drive up that newspaper’s liberal score on what Groseclose called a Slant Quotient. He used the same scale for the Slant Quotient as he used for the Political Quotient, which is that 100 is the most liberal; zero the most conservative.

 

GROSECLOSE: The New York Times got about a seventy-four. Of the twenty, eighteen of the twenty leaned left. Now, just about none of them were to the left of the average Democratic speech. So, you know, some people — some of my conservative friends, you know The New York Times sounds about like a Joe Lieberman speech. Conservative friends say that’s it? That’s not very liberal. (laughing)

 

DUBNER: (laughing)

 

GROSECLOSE: So, in some ways… NPR was something like a sixty-seven, so even to the right of a Joe Lieberman speech. So in some ways my results, I think, say that the media are some ways more centrist than lots of people have been saying. On the other side, I analyze one Fox News show, this was “Special Report,” when I analyzed it Brit Hume was the anchor. That Slant Quotient was a forty, which means that it was ten points right of center. So it sounds about like an Olympia Snowe, Susan Collins speech.

 

DUBNER: So Groseclose’s argument, based on his research, is that most news organizations empirically lean to the left, although not as dramatically as some critics might suspect. He ultimately wrote up his findings in a book called Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind. Now, how did he come to that conclusion — that the American Mind is being distorted by media bias? Well, Groseclose combined his own findings and existing research to calculate that the average American voter has a “natural” PQ, or Political Quotient, of around 25-30, which is firmly in the conservative range. But, as Groseclose sees it, the left-leaning media pulls some of those naturally conservative voters into the center. Which is why we generally vote about 50-50. Without media bias, Groseclose says, we’d be a much different country.

 

GROSECLOSE: So I suggest that we would be about like Texas, or about like Kentucky. It might be even more conservative.

 

DUBNER: If Tim Groseclose is right — it’s a big if, for sure — I wanted to know this: how does that bias happen in a newsroom? Does journalism simply attract more liberals than conservatives? And think of all the choices a given writer or editor or producer will make in a given day — which story to cover, and which to not; which sources to cite and which to leave out; which conclusions to draw and which to leave to the reader.

 

Juan WILLIAMS: Well, it’s not about the culture of the newsrooms per se, because all sorts of people work in there. Although I would say that the NPR newsroom tends to be much more like a liberal, college-fraternity type of environment.

 

DUBNER: [8] That’s Juan Williams. He’s a political analyst for Fox News; he used to work for NPR — and Fox News, at the same time. You may remember that in October of 2010, NPR fired Williams for some [9] comments he made on The O’Reilly Factor about Muslims.

 

[WILLIAMS ON THE O’REILLY FACTOR]

 

DUBNER: He wasn’t expecting to get fired.

 

WILLIAMS: And I was in shock. I don’t think I knew what to do. I went and ate some Chinese food. I did another TV show before I spoke to anybody about it.  And that shows you haw crazy I was – kind of lost in my mind over this thing.

 

 

DUBNER: Naturally, Williams became a poster boy for media bias — which was strange, or at least seemed strange to me, because he has one of the most nuanced views on media bias that you’re likely to find:

 

WILLIAMS: Well, the process, it can be amorphous, but here’s the thing, it’s a creative process. And I remember once, sitting at a lunch with Katherine Graham, former publisher of The Washington Post, and we were talking about newspapers, and I don’t know why, but I said to her, well you know ten years ago this would be  totally different newspaper, different group of people, different opinions, different [10] strengths, different interests. And everybody at the table said of course. [11] And I think the idea that this is not a programmed, constant feed of news happening out there and the newspaper or the news program is a direct reflection of that news. To the contrary, it’s a reflection of the people and the agendas of people in the room as they begin to tell their story. For example, I find that as baby boomers have moved through American society, the political society, the cultural society, the economic society, that they have in essence told their story and told it loudly. They are a dominant voice. So their interest, their point of fascination, in fact, their self-reverence has dominated news coverage for the last three decades.

 

DUBNER: It’s an interesting point Williams makes. Putting together a news report is inherently a creative process, and it’ll reflect the people who do it — to some degree. But is it really their decision? What about the owners and managers of these media properties?

 

Matthew GENTZKOW: How is it that media firms choose their content, basically, or how is it that they choose to have conservative slant or liberal slant.

 

DUBNER: That’s Matthew Gentzkow, he’s an economist at the University of Chicago. Along with a colleague named Jesse Shapiro, Gentzkow set out to ask this question: if newspapers are slanted, does the slant really come from the newsroom, or maybe the corner office?

 

GENTZKOW: We wanted to know, is that really an economic decision that looks like any other firm choosing what flavor of ice cream to offer, or what kind of shoes to sell, or is it something different, is it—are those decisions driven by the personal tastes of the owners of media outlets or their political agendas…

 

DUBNER: So Gentzkow and Shapiro wrote a computer program that would sort through millions of articles from hundreds of newspapers. The program’s job was to identify politically partisan phrases.

 

GENTZKOW: And then, of course, the crux of the matter is how do you define what’s a liberal phrase and what’s a conservative phrase and our idea, which builds on some work that Tim Groseclose and Jeff Milyo had done earlier, was to look at the speech of politicians, look at speeches by Congresspeople. The nice thing about Congresspeople is, we know which ones are liberal and we know which ones are conservative. That’s easy to measure. So, we could ask, what are the phrases that liberals or Democrats tend to say a lot, relative to conservatives, and what are the phrases that conservatives tend to say a lot, relative to liberals. 

 

DUBNER: So they fed the entire text of the 2005 Congressional Record – which is a [12] transcript of every Congressional proceeding and debate  — into their computer program. And what did it spit out?

 

[13] GENTZKOW: I always have to remember with this table whether we, uh, read down or across to get the top ten. I’ll read the top ten down. So, the top ten phrases used more often by Democrats are: “private accounts,” “trade agreement,” “American people,” “tax breaks,” “trade deficit,” “oil companies,” “credit card,” “nuclear option,” “war in Iraq,” and “middle class.”  And the two-word phrases on the other side, used more often by Republicans, are “stem cell,” “natural gas,” “death tax,” “illegal aliens,” “class action,” “war on terror,” “embryonic stem,” “tax relief,” “illegal immigration,” and “date the time.”

 

DUBNER: What was that last one?

 

GENTZKOW: So, I mean, I really like the phrase “date the time,” because it reminds people that this is an automated method that we in—we, you know, involved no judgment on our part, and that these things are [14] just spit out by the computer. 

 

DUBNER: Republicans had the Congressional majority in 2005, and it’s the majority that uses this kind of procedural language more often. That’s why [15] “date the time” makes the list. Other frequent Republican phrases: “change hearts and minds,” “border security,” and believe it or not, [16] “Grand Ole Opry.” 2005 was the 80th anniversary of the Grand Ole Opry. Some common Democratic phrases? “Arctic refuge,”  “living in poverty,” and… “[17] [18] Rosa Parks.” This was shortly after Rosa Parks’s death.

 

So, having categorized all this language along Democratic and Republican lines, Gentzkow and Shapiro looked at how often a given newspaper used these signature phrases. And from that, they were able to determine each newspaper’s political slant. But it was the next step that really mattered: figuring out where a slant comes from. In other words, is it that reporters have a bias that gets into their stories, or maybe newspaper owners demand a certain line of coverage? They looked into these factors and more — including one very clever indicator: [19] the voting patterns of the people who read a particular newspaper. Their finding? The most important factor driving the slant of a given newspaper is … the political leanings of the people who buy it. In other words: newspapers are giving the people the news that they want.

 

GENTZKOW: Yeah, I think the, the broad conclusion of our paper is that newspapers look just about like every other firm in the economy, what the people making the decisions at the newspapers are doing is trying to sell newspapers. And it may be that the reporters have their own personal political views, it may be that the owners have their own personal political views, it may be that everyone involved would love to push their own political views a little bit more, but something we show in this paper is that if they did that, it would be really, really costly.  They would lose a lot of money. And I think, at the end of the day, most of the time, in most places, the people in control are not willing to give up lots and lots of money in order to change the content of their newspapers to satisfy their own personal views.

 

 

DUBNER: Coming up: We ask Ann Coulter what she’d do if The New York Times came to her for help…

 

Ann COULTER: I would dance a jig.

 

DUBNER: And we go inside the Times to talk to the editor who gets this kind of e-mail … 

 

ROSENTHAL: “Thank you for making me laugh this morning, another blithering idiot at The New York Times. Why don’t you put on a tight skirt and just be a cheerleader for Obama?”

 

[BREAK]

 

ANNOUNCER: From WNYC and APM, American Public Media, this is FREAKONOMICS RADIO. Here’s your host, Stephen Dubner.

 

DUBNER: So earlier we heard from Tim Groseclose, a UCLA professor, who says that the  U.S. media is categorically, empirically biased — to the left. So if you think that’s true … what do you do about it? Here’s his idea:

 

GROSECLOSE: I would say, maybe hire more conservatives.[20] 

 

DUBNER: You know Ann Coulter? The commentator and author? She’s on Groseclose’s side.

 

DUBNER: I understand that Tim Groseclose has this quiz on his website, test your political quotient, you can kind of align yourself, match yourself to various politicians. Did you take that test? How’d you do on it?

 

COULTER: Well, I would say I got an A-plus as a conservative.

 

DUBNER: So let me ask you this, Ann, let’s say if, you know, Jill Abramson, the editor of The New York Times, comes to you and says, you know what? I think you’re right, I think all these years you’ve been right, and we want to do better.

 

COULTER: I would dance a jig.

 

DUBNER:[21]  But let’s say that she were to come to you and say, Ann, we think that you’ve been right and we’ve been wrong and we are starting over. We have a great infrastructure here, we know how to report the news, but we want to render the news more down the middle. What are the top priorities that you would give, let’s say, The New York Times?

 

COULTER: Hire ten conservatives.

 

DUBNER: It’s as simple as that, it’s just finding…

 

[22] COULTER: I think so. Just having a conservative around, it breaks the cocoon effect, I would imagine. A conservative working at The Times would be able to tell them David Brooks isn’t a conservative. Could we have someone else representing us? And I think that’s all it would take. I mean, maybe there is invidious bias and they just secretly hate us, or openly hate us. But I really think it’s mostly a matter of not knowing any conservatives.

 

DUBNER: Coulter very much agrees with Tim Groseclose that a biased media pushes the American electorate further to the left than what it would naturally believe … 

 

[23] ROSENTHAL: I don’t know where to begin [24] in describing how completely ridiculous that is. I just…

 

DUBNER: Pick a spot and begin.

 

DUBNER[25] : That’s Andrew Rosenthal.

 

ROSENTHAL: I’m the editorial page editor of The New York Times, which means that I’m in charge of the editorials, letters to the editor, the columnists who work for The New York Times, and the op-ed stuff, which is people who don’t work for The New York Times who we invite to write their opinions, and that’s in the paper and online.

 

DUBNER: So here’s the thing. You know, I used to work here, as you know, and when you work here even if you’re a fan of newspapers and journalism, which some people are but not so many, you understand that there is a demarcation, there is a Maginot line between, or maybe a DMZ is a better phrase, between what you run, which is called opinion here, and the news shop. So, can you describe how it works here?

 

ROSENTHAL: Sure. Well the purpose of it quite simply is to keep the expressed opinions of people who are journalists…journalists who express their opinions out of the news columns. It is to avoid the contamination of news with opinion, not the other way around, obviously, because there is lots of news in opinion writing. And that is to maintain the independence of the news report. The Times was historically one of the first independent newspapers. And by independent I mean politically independent. Before the currently publisher’s family bought it is eighteen…whatever it was, The New York Times was a Republican newspaper, which people will find hilarious. The guy, the first editor of the Times was actually Abraham Lincoln’s campaign manager for reelection and one of the founders of the Republican Party. It is vitally important to remember in this context that the Republican Party of Abraham Lincoln had nothing whatever to do with the Republican Party of John Boehner.

 

DUBNER: Was there much of a distinction between editorial and news at the time?

 

ROSENTHAL: No, and in fact the editor of the newspaper ran the editorial page and the opinion pagers.

 

DUBNER: But there was an editorial page, it just wasn’t…

 

ROSENTHAL: Correct. It was run by the same person who ran the news pages.

 

DUBNER: Gotcha.

 

ROSENTHAL: And that was a common thing. And it’s not, it’s not entirely uncommon right now. I know people who are editorial page editors who report to the chief news executive of the organization they are part of. And I think that that’s the problem. And that’s what we deal with here. At The New York Times the most important thing is the news report just overwhelmingly. It’s our reason for existence. And that is run by Jill Abramson. Jill can’t tell me what to editorialize about, doesn’t know what I’m editorializing about, doesn’t know what positions I’m taking, though a lot of the positions we take aren’t big shockers if you’ve ever read The New York Times editorial page. And I don’t give her advice on what news to cover, and neither one of us has any involvement in the other’s personnel decisions. I don’t go to their news meetings… The people from the newsroom can never come to editorial board meetings. We meet three times a week, the editorial board and the editorial writers. People from the newsroom never attend those meetings. And they are not invited to be part of it. I view it as wildly inappropriate when people tell me what I should write on the editorial page, and it sometimes happens. And they all get the same response, which is, you know, my dear friend, or if they aren’t my friend, or my colleague, please don’t ever ask me a question like this again you know how this works. And they stop immediately. Everyone here knows what the deal is. And they don’t lobby for positions. And I don’t lobby for coverage.

 

DUBNER: Let me ask you this, so here’s some official language, from, I guess, The Times website. “The editorial department of the paper is completely separate from the news operation. And Mr. Rosenthal — that’s you — answers directly to the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger Jr.” I’m just curious, do you ever wonder if that’s a kind of, you know, quaint, old-fashioned demarcation that has maybe outlived its time? In other words that it’s impossible now, the way that news travels, the way that news is consumed for the reading public not to conflate the opinion report of a paper like yours with the news report?

 

ROSENTHAL: I think it’s very hard for them not to. For people who grow up, for example, in Europe it’s almost impossible because they don’t really have, well they do, but there’s a lot of European newspapers that are, where they co-mingle. And there is something that has happened where everything we’ve been talking about has been about institutional separation and bureaucratic separation, and about separating the stuff that my people right from the stuff that Jill’s people write.

 

DUBNER: Right.

 

ROSENTHAL: This does not guarantee the separation of opinion from news. And what’s happened over the last decade or so to a great extent, constantly increasing extent, and a lot of this is because of what’s going on online. We can talk about that if you like. But is the seepage of opinion into news, not from the editorial department into news, but within the news departments of media, people, they are doing opinion.

 

DUBNER: Including your own paper.

 

ROSENTHAL: Yes.

 

DUBNER: So, let me ask you this, does it drive you crazy some days when you read the news report of your own paper which is as good a news report as there is and say hey that should be on my page not on their page? Do you see phrases? Do you see ideas? Do you see..

 

ROSENTHAL: No, it’s more like, you know, and I think this is important when it comes to media bias, I think that by and large the news articles in the newspaper are very straightforward. They have no stake in the outcome, that the writer does not believe that one way or another should be the way the thing should have turned out. Certainly you do not have a situation where people are either twisting facts or leaving facts out to make something appear different than it really is in order to suit their ideology. I think the language is pretty straightforward. I think there’s more analysis in New York Times articles than in most. It used to be, now everyone does it. What you see is actual…

 

DUBNER: The implication being that analysis tends to hue a little closer to opinion than straight news?

 

ROSENTHAL: It hues closer to conclusion. You know if you’ve ever been a foreign correspondent like I was, and I was foreign editor for a while, foreign correspondents, they need to do reporting that reaches a conclusion. A foreign correspondent in Afghanistan who is not telling you which side is winning the war is not doing his job, and that’s a conclusion. And it’s not that I want this side to win the war. And also, a little bit in political reporting you have to reach conclusions about how candidates are doing. And if a candidate is losing an election you have to say so.

 

DUBNER: There is a kind of, I think, common analog, I hope I’m not overstating it by saying that it’s common, that Fox News is to the right what The New York Times is to the left. I’m guessing you would see that as a false equivalency on a lot of levels, tell me if I’m right.

 

ROSENTHAL: I think it’s the word I want to use here, but even on Public Radio…

 

DUBNER: Please, we bleep so much on this show.

 

ROSENTHAL: Well it begins with bull and ends in it and you can figure out what comes in between. I think it’s absolute pernicious nonsense. I think that there, I’ve been at this newspaper a long time, I’ve been at a lot of newspapers, Fox News presents the news in a way that is deliberately skewed to promote political causes, and The New York Times simply does not. We make mistakes; we don’t achieve perfect balance. There’s no such thing as perfect balance because there is such a thing as truth.

 

DUBNER: Talk about you for a minute growing up with New York Times Inc., in your blood stream. So your dad was the editor of this paper for nearly twenty years I believe, which were very important years for this newspaper in a lot of ways.

 

ROSENTHAL: They were formative years.

 

DUBNER: Talk for a minute, though, about, okay so you are the man who runs the most important opinion section in newspapers. And you are the son of the man who ran the news report here for nearly twenty years. So just talk a minute about that household, and what position The New York Times played in the orbit of that household.

 

ROSENTHAL: Well, it’s the other way around. It was the household in the orbit of The New York Times.

 

DUBNER: Okay.

 

ROSENTHAL: My dad was a man of his generation, born in 1922. For him The New York Times was the beginning, the middle, and the end of his existence. And he was dedicated to it entirely. He believed and you know what it says on his gravestone, that he kept the paper straight. I have a thing on my desk, which most people don’t know what it is, but it’s that reverse lead type. And he hired a reporter from The Philadelphia Inquirer and discovered after he hired her that she’d been sleeping with one of her sources at The Philadelphia Inquirer and fired her even though it had nothing to do with The New York Times. And someone said to him why do you care who she sleeps with? And he said rather memorably, and it’s there on my, [26] “I don’t care if you [27] fuck an elephant just so long as you don’t cover the circus.” And that was my dad. I really truly believe that you could do that to an elephant and he’d be okay with it, but no circus coverage. And you know, but that is the…No seriously, it sounds goofy.

 

DUBNER: No but that’s the core of…

 

[28] [29] ROSENTHAL: But it’s profound. It’s the core of journalistic principle. And by the way, journalistic principle applies to what I do, too. We don’t lie. And we don’t work for Barack Obama. We’re not members of anybody’s team. It’s journalism. We’re supposed to be writing our opinions about stuff as we truly see it. A great editorial is a strong position, firmly held, quickly and cleanly expressed, based on actual reporting.

 

 

 

DUBNER[30] You know what I learned today? I learned that media bias is probably an argument that’ll never go away. We put out a podcast not long ago about how people choose to believe what we believe — about everything from the risk of global warming to whether we’ve been visited by UFOs. It turns out that a lot of us unknowingly bend our beliefs to fit our political or social or family circles. We carry around all sorts of personal biases that we simply don’t see. The best description I’ve ever heard of this comes from Danny Kahneman, the Nobel-winning psychologist and author of Thinking, Fast and Slow. He calls it “being blind to our blindness.”

 

Daniel KAHNEMAN: Well, there’s a lot of psychological research that points in that general direction. We think other people are biased, and we don’t feel that we are biased. We feel that their opinions are right because our intuitions tend to land on one coherent interpretation of the world. And that looks almost like a sure thing. And so we tend to be overconfident in whatever we believe that’s generally true. And we find it much easier to find the errors in other people.

 

DUBNER[31] : So we’ll continue to point fingers at the other side while declaring ourselves blameless. That seems to be the nature of the human beast. But more troubling, at least to me, is that we seem to like it like that. One reason we love to argue about something like  media bias is that, after all these millennia, we still thrive on tribalism. We still love to divide ourselves into us and them — left and right, liberal and conservative, whatever you want to call it. We find the tribe where we fit in and rush over to join, rally ’round its flag, and immediately start tossing grenades at the idiots who are flying the other flag. Personally, I find this instinct a little bizarre, the instinct to herd ourselves into one of two major groups. Why should we want to define ourselves as right or left? If I’m a hardcore environmentalist, that means I have to want higher taxes too? If I’m pro-death penalty, I can’t also be pro-choice? We love to complain about partisanship in Washington, and in the media. But could it be that we get the partisanship we want? The partisanship we deserve? Here’s my advice: if you want an enemy to root against, watch more sports. That’s what sport is good for! It’s a proxy for war, for violence, for tribalism. When the game’s over, when you’re ready for some nuance, come back to the real world. And only then, if you think you’re calm enough to handle it, pick up a newspaper.

 

ANNOUNCER: FREAKONOMICS RADIO is produced by WNYC, APM, American Public Media and Dubner Productions. This episode was produced by Suzie Lechtenberg with help from Jacob Berman. Our staff includes Katherine Wells, Diana Huynh, Bourree Lam and Chris Bannan. David Herman is our engineer, Jacob Bastian is our intern and our executive producer is Collin Campbell. If you want more Freakonomics Radio, subscribe to our free podcast on iTunes and go to Freakonomics-dot-com where you’ll find lots of radio, the blog, the books and more.

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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