Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Biased Journalists... Who Would Have Thought It?

You might imagine that the media is increasingly biased against Republicans. We are not talking about editorials or opinion journalism. We are thinking about the way it presents the facts. If former Times editor Jill Abramson could aver that the Times slants news coverage to make Trump look bad, you know that the problem has moved beyond the realm of reasonable doubt.

But, what good is speculation when we can have a research study. Performed by University of British Columbia doctoral candidate Eric Merkley, the new study focuses on the way the mainstream media reported on economic news. News about unemployment, productivity and GDP. 

The story was published in an academic journal, entitled American Politics Research. Eric Dolan provided a summary on PsyPost, a go-to source for psycho news.

What did Merkley find? Dolan reports:

He found that the tone of economic news coverage was more positive during Democratic presidencies, even after controlling for the economic performance.

“Journalists broadly lean to the political left and this has become increasingly true over time. These findings suggest there is a real possibility that journalists subtly frame news content in ways that serve their partisan interests,” Merkley told PsyPost.

“The key word is subtly. This study provides no evidence that mainstream media deliberately manufacturers false or misleading content to harm Republican presidents. Rather, the findings are consistent with confirmation bias. Journalists appropriately reduce tone in economic news in response to worsening economic conditions under Republican presidents, but are problematically more charitable during Democratic administrations.”

“This shouldn’t be a huge surprise. Being objective and impartial is darn near impossible for journalists and all citizens when our cognitive hard-wiring is oriented towards supporting our social group identities when we see and interpret information in the political world.”

Why do journalists report highlight economic news that makes Democrats look good while downplaying economic news that makes Republicans look good? Merkley suggests that confirmation bias plays an important part. That means, for the uninitiated, that people tend to select out facts that confirm their beliefs while ignoring facts that tend to disprove them. And he is correct to add that anyone who belongs to a group that thinks a certain way will tend to think the same way… the better to maintain his standing in the group.

Fair points. They affirm what we had all suspected. And they help us to suppress our tendency to ascribe malevolent motives to those we disagree with.


trigger warning said...

Well, I suppose one can blame confirmation bias. However, I think a variant of Hanlon's Razor is more accurate:

Never ascribe to confirmation bias that which is adequately explained by stupidity.

Hanlon's Razor has more explanatory power, easily covering idiotic behavior like wrestling White House interns for a microphone and sharing cheat sheets with Presidential candidates prior to debates. Or this...



Sam L. said...

"You might imagine that the media is increasingly biased against Republicans." Wellllll, I'm SEEING it, not imagining it.

“The key word is subtly." REALLY?? I...think not.

I wouldn't call it confirmation bias. I'd call it sucking up to the crowd so as not to be expelled from the gang.

"And they help us to suppress our tendency to ascribe malevolent motives to those we disagree with." I still find them quite malevolent.

sestamibi said...

Exhibit A: Dave Leonhardt of the NY Times.

UbuMaccabee said...

Purely malevolent and disagreeable and stupid. “Ithaca is the source of all evil.”

Anonymous said...

I try to suppress my tendency to look for malevolence; that is until they beat me over the head with their obvious malevolence. Take CovCath; how can there be any motive but malevolence for what happened there?

UbuMaccabee said...

The bias isn’t merely against Republicans and conservatives, the bias is against Western Civilization. The conflict is between the crazies and the normals, between the decent and the indecent. And it is a conflict we all have an obligation to join. If we fail to understand the stakes, and to join the battle on behalf of Civilization, we will be held accountable. We live in interesting times.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I think there are additive biases. None has to be large, but if they are in the same direction it adds up. The first is as above, a confirmation bias. The second is who is tolerated as other commenters and thinkers. Not all journalists are extreme leftists, but if they do not call out and challenge those who are, it creates a false perception of where the center is and who is credible. Lastly, there is more bias on some subjects than others. Economics is confusing and contradictory, and I can well believe that media sources are only somewhat left-leaning on this. I think they are likely only somewhat liberal on fooreign policy as well. It is the artists and academics who are consistent marxists, not the journalists. They leave things out, they are too forgiving, they don't update their knowledge of foreign places for decades, falling back on 20-40 year old stereotypes, but they make some attempt. Well, not the ones in DC, and that matters, but for the rest it's better.

The big differences are on social issues and cultural issues, which is where they are most talented at discerning the most popular views of the Best People and sneering at the others. This emphatically includes religious issues, of which they know little. There is also a huge difference, likely related in how scandals are covered.

The Elephant's Child said...

Of course there is bias, but there also are people who are supposedly 'educated" who re fearful of global warming, and quite sure that doom lurks just around the corner, but have never read a word of the science, nor do they understand that cutting taxes for the rich can result in more jobs and business expansion. One of the Left's biggest hot spots in their hate for Republicans is that we cut taxes for the rich.Dunno whether they just don't read any hard things once they got out of school, or whether they just don't know that there are some hard but real facts behind these ideas.

I haven't seen any work on what I'm calling "cultural contagion" which goes not just around the country, but between this country and the rest of the world. Or did not Cathy Griffin's severed head thing, in some way give permission to the rest of the people to do a 'can you top this' for ever greater insults?