Sunday, September 14, 2008

If an attempt at snark falls in the woods...

Remember the blog Economics of Contempt?
I didn't, so I clicked over when I saw it had linked to us, last Monday. And yay, funtime.

My post on media bias generated some good debate (especially in the comments to Megan McArdle's post). It also generated one utterly unhinged (and comically stupid) response by a guy named Brad at the Fire Megan McArdle blog.
Before I get to Brad's response, I want to clear a couple things up. First, as I noted in my original post, I don't perceive a liberal bias in the media.[*** - see below] In fact, if you asked me whether I perceived a particular bias in the media, I would say that I think there's a conservative bias. But I'm a partisan Democrat, and my point was that my perceptions of media bias are likely to be heavily tilted toward perceiving a conservative bias. Second, I don't think "unbiased" means a perfect 50-50 balance of pro-Democrat and pro-Republican stories. The media's reporting should of course be driven by the facts. If the Democrats are right 75% of the time, then by all means, the media's reporting should reflect that. But media bias isn't always that simple; it often takes place at a much more nuanced level, for instance how a reporter describes a policy or a political event. Third: yes, I know that Fox News isn't liberal, and that Chris Matthews slobbers all over Republicans. The fact that there are prominent conservative pundits doesn't prove that the media, in general, have a conservative bias.
He wants to clear a few things up, but not everything. We'll get back to what he's missing after he eviscerates my carefully crafted argument.
Now to Brad's post, which is high comedy. Brad first tries to argue that my post is worthless because I'm a lawyer, and not a neurologist. Ouch. Good one, Brad. You're absolutely right: I'm not a neurologist. But, of course, that has nothing to do with my argument, seeing as the neurological study I relied on was published in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience.
Actually, I was criticizing Megan for citing you instead of someone qualified to opine on the topic at hand as she defined it. EoC, as a lawyer, should understand that expert testimony is worth more when it comes from an actual expert, as opposed to someone who slept in a Holiday Inn last night.
Next, he argues that my post was dishonest:
He goes on to cite one of countless studies showing reporters tend to identify as Democrats. He does not, of course, follow up with mention of the consistent accompanying result that a majority of editors and publishers identify as Republicans, or the fact that these folk are the ones who actually control the news being published. That would be honest, and wouldn't play into the meme being pushed.
First of all, the survey I cited did, in fact, include editors in the survey sample. Here's the breakdown of the survey sample:
* 9 percent of respondents were editors, managing editors or assistant managing editors.
* 38 percent were mid-level editors (including the copy desk, section editors, graphics/photo editors and editorial page editors).
* 46 percent were staff (including both general assignment and specialized reporters, photographers, designers and columnists).
Second of all, there is no "consistent accompanying result" showing that editors and publishers skew Republican. In fact, surveys show that most editors and publishers also vote Democratic.
Hehehehehe. It's true that the Managing and Assistant Managing Editors included in the study didn't identify themselves as substantially more Republican or Republican leaning than their reporters in this study, which was conducted in 1998. But, I don't see publishers included, just to quibble about what I actually said, and EoC's second study isn't a study at all, but an article about attitudes towards the Clinton Presidency in the media, also back in 1998. You see, apparently
Editors - who shape and direct news coverage - also tend to lean left.
More newspaper editors backed Clinton than did the public at large, according to a nationwide survey by the Technometrica Institute of Policy and Politics for Editor & Publisher magazine.
The survey found that 58% of editors voted for Clinton in '92, and 57% backed him in '96. The public, on the other hand, gave Clinton 43% and 49% of the vote in those elections.
Editorial boards tend to be left-of-center as well.
The E&P/TIPP survey found that nearly 45% of major newspapers endorsed Clinton in '96. Only about one in three endorsed Republican candidate Bob Dole. Another 20% made no endorsement.
We'll skip the questionable nature of calling Clinton a liberal for the moment, and move on to another quote from Eoc's link.
Editors know it, too. More than nine out of 10 in the E&P/TIPP poll said that the American public perceives a liberal political tilt in newspapers. Yet only one of four editors sees himself as liberal. Almost two-thirds think they have a moderate take.
I'm not sure Eoc read his whole link. The only time this article actually touches on the point EoC is citing it to reinforce, it says something contrary to what he wants it to. Here's some more he might well have missed
Most TV news programs for instance, simply ignored Clinton White House scandals. In 90 broadcasts in April '97, for instance, the top three network TV news programs ran only 19 stories on Clinton scandals, the Media Research Center found. That's despite almost daily developments reported in the print media during the time. [My emphasis]
And please remember, this is from January 30th, 1998, which is to say the Lewinsky scandal was still developing. That's like only looking at how the press treated GW prior to 9/11 when evaluating how they've covered him as President.
EoC continues
Next, Brad questions the neurological study I discussed:
I'd be interested to know whether the study controlled for the actual empirical truth values of the claims being responded to, as Kerry tended to lie a lot less often than Bush, which could skew the results, but then I'm probably being emotional in my attachment to reality.
Brad was clearly too lazy to click on the link to the study that I provided. Had he done so, he would have found that yes, the study did control for "the actual empirical truth values of the claims being responded to." Or, alternatively, he could have simply read my post, as I clearly stated that the claims the subjects responded to were "undeniably inconsistent."
How dare I admit I'm doing something he's going to go on to criticize me for later? (Oops. I deleted that line before I published the post. My bad.) I didn't even take the word of someone I called intellectually dishonest as enough. Geez. *smacks self*
Finally, he argues that the party affiliation of journalists (and editors) can't be used to gauge liberal or conservative bias anymore, because:
Bush's extremism and my way or the highway mentality and record of unmitigated failure have forced the country's political center back into the Democratic Party.
As I noted in my post, the survey of journalists and editors I cited was conducted in 1999****—that is, before Bush shifted the political spectrum. Brad should really learn to think before he writes. According to his profile, Brad is a student. My advice to him: stay in school.
Now, I could then ask why base your claims on a decade old survey of a political landscape we all know changes quite frequently, or mention that newsrooms have faced massive layoffs in that decade, changing their very nature, but I'd like, instead, to focus on the one portion of my criticisms EoC chose to ignore.
You see, conflating liberal and Democrat is a mistake that logicians call begging the question, which is something I learned in school. Liberal does not equal Democrat, as Zell Miller and Joe Lieberman have demonstrated in recent years. But claims of media bias in favor of Democrats would ring hollow in the years following the hatchet job they did on Gore in 2000 or the eager reproduction of obvious lies in the march to war of 2002, so those trying to game the ref claim the media privileges a portion of the political spectrum that is barely represented by it. Name major media liberal voices. Krugman, Maddow, Olbermann when he's not being an asshole, maybe? Oprah, sort of, but not really, plus she's made a point of not allowing her show to be politicized. The NYTimes is horribly liberal, which is why they publish Bill Kristol. Yes, there's liberal magazines, but we're talking about the supposedly neutral MSM press.
Words, Mr. EoC, mean things. Liberal and Democrat mean different things. There's overlap, obviously, but they're only identical from the perspective of movement conservatives. Why someone claiming to be a Democrat would internalize this meme is beyond me, but it certainly invalidates his entire argument.

Also, EoC didn't fix the typo in his "About Me". Tsktsk.

*** - From EoC's original post;
I tend to think there is a "liberal media bias," based on two facts.

**** - Actually, as the survey makes clear, it was "completed in April and May 1998". It was published in 1999. Heehee.


Anonymous said...


Sorry I am late to the party...but at the very least you have to consider the fact that you are no longer a fringe blog. You're becoming more mainstream, if for no other reason, that other blogs are quoting you. Isn't this the way that people tell how good scientific papers how oftern they are quoted? So congrats on that. Anyway keep the snark coming...


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