LIBERAL MEDIA?….Is the press biased? That’s a blogosphere favorite, so this study by Michael Tomasky ought to get a lot of attention (Howard Kurtz has a summary here). Tomasky studied the editorial pages of two liberal papers (the New York Times and Washington Post) and two conservative papers (the Wall Street Journal and Washington Times) and compared the way they treated ten “roughly comparable” events in the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Tomasky’s basic conclusion is that the conservative editorial pages were far more partisan than the liberal ones:
At the liberal papers, 36% of editorials were favorable toward Clinton while the conservative papers were favorable toward Bush 77% of the time.
Conversely, the liberal papers were negative toward Bush only 67% of the time, while the conservative papers were negative toward Clinton 89% of the time.
This result really doesn’t surprise me, especially in the case of the Wall Street Journal, which has an attack mentality that’s simply unmatched among major American newspapers. Their schooyard tone and appalling level of intellectual dishonesty is unique and, unfortunately, probably quite influential. A lot of businessmen don’t read any opinion pages except the WSJ’s, and I’ve long suspected that the Journal is responsible for a considerable part of the general hardening and sense of entitlement that corporate executives demonstrate these days.
In another sense, however, I have a hard time taking Tomasky’s study seriously. It’s not that there’s any problem with his methodology, it’s just that I don’t think it addresses the real issue that conservatives claim to have with the media: not political bias, and not editorial page bias, but the default assumption of socially liberal values in the news columns. Eric Alterman was honest enough to address that issue in What Liberal Media?, and his conclusion was, basically, that conservatives probably had a point. Not as big a point as they complain about, but a point nonetheless.
Now, needless to say, social bias in news stories is so subtle that it’s probably impossible for any study to ever draw any firm conclusions about it. But even so, I think that’s the primary point of contention, so while Tomasky’s study is interesting it doesn’t really address the core issue of media bias. That, I think, will probably continue to remain happily in the realm of fact-free ranting.