Wednesday, December 24, 2008

All the news that fits our ideology

I am a bit mystified over the growing literature on "media bias", but KPC friend Jim Synder and his co-author Riccardo Puglisi have a new NBER working paper (ungated version here) which uses data on newspaper coverage of recent political scandals to show that it's the partisanship of the newspaper rather than the partisanship of the readers that drives which scandals are covered more intensively.

Here, let them tell you:

We analyze the coverage of U.S. political scandals by U.S. newspapers during the past decade. Using automatic keyword-based searches we collected data on 35 scandals and approximately 200 newspapers. We find that Democratic-leaning newspapers (i.e., those with a higher propensity to endorse Democratic candidates in elections) give relatively more coverage to scandals involving Republican politicians than scandals involving Democratic politicians, while Republican-leaning newspapers tend to do the opposite. This is true even when controlling for the average partisan leanings of readers.

So they are basically saying media bias is a supply side story, not a demand side story, which is lovely and believable, but to me the big question left hanging here is so what? Why should we care that media outlets have a political agenda?


Michael Munger said...

Consider the following:

1. There are very significant entry barriers to writing and disseminating news stories.

2. People are forced to read some media sources but not others.

3. Readers/Listeners are incapable of separating facts and opinions.

Now, if ANY of the above three were systematically true, there might be a problem. But #1 is absurdly false now, if it was EVER true. (Angus and Mungowitz have a blog that gets nearly 4000 hits a week! Any damned fool can write stuff and get it read in this environment). #2 is no longer true, if it ever was. We don't all sit and watch King Walter at 6:30 EST anymore. And #3....well, if #3 is true, then the media is the LEAST of our problems. We need to worry about the bias our politicians have towards being criminals, fourflushers, and preening twits.

So, if NONE of the three is true, and I submit that none are systematically true, then Angus has this right. So firetrucking what?

Anonymous said...

While I agree "So what?" I also have problems with the methodology, particularly, how on earth does one control for the Biggitude of a given scandal? To pick a few, how does one compare coverage of a Jane Harman scandal (a ranking minority member of a House committee has allegedly inappropriate contact with AIPAC) with a Scooter Libby, a much larger scandal that resulted in a conviction? How does one adjust for the fact that in Harman's case, attacks against a Democrat were coming from her left? The study uses a minor early Rod Blagojevich scandal, but would an update to reflect Blagojevich's impressive new major scandal change the results?

It would seem to me that each scandal is in its own way unique. So are people, but a sample size of 40 odd scandals seems too low to impart any validity to the results.

Dirty Davey said...

And for that matter, while this may allow us to conclude that at a minimum EITHER the Democratic-leaning OR the Republican-leaning papers are being selective in their scandal reporting (since their rates differ) it does not lead to the conclusion that BOTH are being improperly selective unless we start with the premise that the instances and severity of scandals are uniformly distributed across the party--an assumption which I think is not safe to make.