Imagine there’s no media bias

I think it is impossible to imagine what our political landscape would look like in a world where the mainstream media were fair and impartial. Unlike the utopia conjured by John Lennon, it’s “not easy if you try.” It would take someone of Ray Bradbury’s capacious imagination to formulate this particular alternative universe.

In his important 2011 book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind, Professor Tim Groseclose brings the tools of quantitative social science to bear not only to establish the existence and measure the extent of left-wing media bias, but also to evaluate its effects. For some reason (ahem) the book dropped without a trace in 2011, though it is now available in a paperback edition and I highly recommend it.

About the only review of the book that I am aware of is the one by the late James Q. Wilson in the Winter 2011/2012 Claremont Review of Books. Wilson’s review is “Measuring the Slant.” Professor Wilson was probably the most prominent living social scientist when he wrote the review. He died in March 2012. The review must be one of the last pieces that he published.

If you look around on the Internet you can find a few academic critiques of the book. I think they fall into the category of quibbling and nitpicking.

What would our political landscape look like in the absence of left-wing media bias? If the media were, on average, fair and impartial? Professor Groseclose concludes that our political landscape would resemble that of Texas. John Fund doesn’t cite Professor Groseclose, but Groseclose’s analysis provides an illuminating context to Fund’s NRO column “Is Texas ‘crazy,’ or is it the real America?”

Professor Groseclose devotes chapters 18-20 of Left Turn to his analysis of the effects of media bias. In his preface he briefly states the conclusion of his analysis of the effects: “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 a sense, this dramatic finding understates the problem. In a world without media bias — in a world where the media treated Democrats like it treats Republicans — Barack Obama wouldn’t have been the Democratic presidential nominee. Indeed, Joe Biden wouldn’t have been the vice presidential nominee; he would long ago have been run out of public life for his buffoonery and racism (as it would be deemed in the case of a Republican).

On January 26 Professor Groseclose lectured at Hillsdale College on the effects of media bias; he gave his lecture at the college’s conference on American Journalism, Yesterday & Today. Among the conference speakers were Hugh Hewitt, Sharyl Attkison, Richard Brookhiser, and Fred Siegel. What an incredible lineup! It looks like the journalistic equivalent of the 1927 Yankees to me.

Videos of all the conference lectures are posted here and they are all worth your time. Below is Professor Groseclose’s lecture on the effects of media bias. Please check it out.