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Left Turn: A Preface

On this coming Tuesday St. Martin’s Press will publish Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, by Tim Groseclose. Groseclose is a distinguished professor of political science. He is the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics at UCLA. He holds joint appointments in the political science and economics departments. He has held previous faculty appointments at universities including Stanford and Harvard. He is not, shall we say, a right-wing ranter.

The publication of Professor Groseclose’s book — previewed here by Paul Bedard at USNews and here by Professor Groseclose himself — is a signal event. To the vexed question of media bias, Professor Groselose brings the methodology of the social sciences.

Professor Groseclose and his publisher have kindly granted us permission to publish the preface, introduction (Monday) and eighth chapter of his book (Tuesday through Friday), starring our friend Katherine Kersten, over the course of this week. Here is the preface (footnotes omitted):

In at least one important way journalists are very different from the rest of us—they are more liberal. For instance, according to surveys, in a typical presidential election, Washington correspondents vote about 93-7 for the Democrat, while the rest of us vote about 50-50 for the two candidates.

What happens when our view of the world is filtered through the eyes, ears, and minds of such a liberal group?

As I demonstrate—using objective, social-scientific methods—the filtering prevents us from seeing the world as it really is. Instead, we only see a distorted version of it. It is as if we see the world through a glass—a glass that magnifies the facts that liberals want us to see and shrinks the facts that conservatives want us to see.

The metaphoric glass affects not just what we see, but how we think. That is, media bias really does make us more liberal.

Perhaps worst of all, media bias feeds on itself. That is, the bias makes us more liberal, which makes us less able to detect the bias, which allows the media to get away with more bias, which makes us even more liberal, and so on.

All of this means that the political views that we currently see in Americans are not their natural views. We only see an artificial, distorted version of those views.

In the book I calculate the precise degree to which those views have been distorted. Specifically, I answer the question: What if we could magically remove the metaphoric glass and see, face-to-face, the average American, once his political views are no longer distorted by media bias? What would we see?

The answer, basically, is Ben Stein.

Main Conclusions of the Book

Yes, the actor, author, commentator, and former host of Win Ben Stein’s Money. More specific, the person whom we’d see is anyone—like Ben Stein—who has a Political Quotient near 25. The Political Quotient is a device that I construct to measure political views in a precise, objective, and quantitative way. A person’s PQ indicates the degree to which he is liberal. For instance, as I have calculated, the PQs of Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and Nancy Pelosi (D-Ca.) are approximately 100. Meanwhile the PQs of noted conservatives Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.) are approximately 0.

Two other people whose PQs are approximately 25 are Bill O’Reilly and Dennis Miller. They are significantly more conservative than the average American voter, whose PQ is approximately 50. But they are significantly more liberal than politicians like Michele Bachmann or Jim DeMint.

As my results show, if we could magically eliminate media bias, then the average American would think and vote like Stein, Miller, O’Reilly, and others who have a PQ near 25.

In this magical world—call it a Ben Stein-ocracy—there would be just as many politicians to the left of Stein, O’Reilly and Miller as there are to their right. The same thing would be true of policies—that is, Stein, O’Reilly, and Miller would complain just as often that U.S. policies are too conservative as they would complain that they are too liberal.

In such a world, American political values would mirror those of present-day regions where the average voter has a 25 PQ. Such regions include the states of Kansas, Texas, and South Dakota. They also include Orange County, California and Salt Lake County, Utah.

To the liberal elite, such places are a nightmare. They are family-friendly, largely suburban, and a large fraction of their residents go to church on Sundays. “Ahh, don’t cross the Orange Curtain,” a Hollywood acquaintance once said to another Hollywood acquaitance, referring to a visit to Orange County.

In an episode of the Sopranos, Tony goes into a coma after being shot. He dreams that he is stuck in a hotel in Costa Mesa (a town in Orange County). He and the other guests of the hotel slowly realize that they are not free to leave. The hotel, many believe, was intended by the Sopranos writers to represent Purgatory.

To the liberal elite, that’s the way the world would be if media bias were to disappear—like Orange County, not quite hell, but a step in that direction.

Construction of the Book’s Argument

To some people, the above conclusions will sound shocking. However, they are supported by: (i) eight years of research; (ii) some state-of-the-art statistical and social-scientific methods; and (iii) some recent, little-noticed, yet brilliant, research by some rising-star professors of economics and political science.

In addition, once you learn some not-so-shocking intermediate conclusions that I construct, the main conclusion might not seem so shocking. The following are some of those intermediate conclusions:

• The PQ is based upon issues chosen by the Americans for Democratic Action, a liberal interest group. Thus, to demonstrate liberal media bias, I use a measuring rod, which was ultimately created by liberals.

• Through the notion of a Slant Quotient, I show that media bias—like political views—can be measured objectively and quantitatively.

• According to these Slant Quotients, every mainstream national news outlet in the U.S. has a liberal bias.

• Of the one hundred or so news outlets that I examine, only a handful lean right. These include: the Washington Times, the Daily Oklahoman, the (Tucson) Arizona Daily Star, and Fox News’ Special Report.

• But even the latter, supposedly conservative news outlets, are not far-right. For instance, Special Report is more centrist than any of the three network evening news shows. That is, its conservative bias is less than the liberal bias of ABC, CBS, or NBC.

• The effects of media bias are real and significant. My results suggest that media bias aids Democratic candidates by about 8-10 percentage points in a typical election. I find, for instance, that if media bias didn’t exist, then John McCain would have defeated Barack Obama 56-42, instead of losing 53-46.

• In our current world, where views are distorted by media bias, the PQ of the average voter is approximately 50. This is about the score of Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) or Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine).

• However, if we could magically eliminate media bias, then the PQ of the average voter would decrease to approximately 25 or 30.

• In our current world, where views have been distorted left, news outlets like the Washington Times and Fox News’ Special Report seem conservative. However, if we could remove the leftwing bias of the media as a whole—and thus change the average voter’s PQ to 25 or 30—then the Washington Times and Special Report would seem slightly left-leaning.

From Left Turn by Tim Groseclose, PhD. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by kind permission of St. Martin’s Press, LLC. All rights reserved.

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