Election day in Minnesota

In this election cycle Minnesota has become a proving ground for the current iteration of the parties. For a glimpse of the Democrats’ destination, see the Ilhan Omar and Keith Ellison. They are one-eyed jacks, but on Power Line at least we’ve seen the other side of their face. If you get your news from the Star Tribune, however, you’ve seen only seen the side of their face that the Democratic candidates want you to see. The systemic failure of the Star Tribune to perform the legitimate journalistic function in these cases is almost as shocking as the untold stories themselves.

Imagine there is no Star Tribune. It isn’t hard to do. It’s impossible.

In Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind (2011), economist Tim Groseclose brought the methodology of quantitative social science to bear on measuring the political tilt and political impact of the mainstream media. Groseclose’s book took analysis of the problem of media bias to the next level, from anecdotes and case study to a general theory of the case.

Unless you were reading Power Line back then, I bet you haven’t heard of the book. The silence that greeted the book was deafening. In its own way it illustrated the book’s themes.

The only significant review of which I am aware appeared in the Claremont Review of Books, by the late James Q. Wilson. Wilson was perhaps our most prominent living social scientist at the time of his death in 2012. He found Groseclose’s book an important contribution to the subject.

Professor Groseclose measured media bias with social-scientific methods and concluded that: (i) all mainstream media outlets have a liberal bias, and (ii) while some supposedly conservative outlets—such as the Washington Times or Fox News Special Report—do lean right, their conservative bias is less than the liberal bias of most mainstream outlets.
Just about everyone concedes that the media are biased to the left. Reporters and editors are liberals. So many reputable studies have demonstrated their bias, consistent with the political views of the mainstream media journalists themselves. No surprise there.

The most important part of Groseclose’s book is Part IV, where he assessed the effects of media bias. Measuring the effects of media bias is difficult. What would voters’ views be in the absence of the bias in which we are suffocating? Groseclose was originally a skeptic regarding the effects, but he now believes the effects are large. He is not certain of the precise magnitude, but he drew on three studies to make an estimate.

One of the studies he draws on is based on an experiment conducted in northern Virginia by three Yale researchers with a view to the 2005 Virginia gubernatorial election. For their experiment they recruited hundreds of participants and bought them subscriptions to the Washington Post or the Washington Times. They randomly chose which subjects would receive which subscription and compared those two groups with a control group.

What was the result? The Yale researchers found that in the Virginia gubernatorial race they examined, the Washington Post participants voted 3.8 percentage points higher for the Democratic candidate than did their Washington Times participants. Given that the Post adopts a more liberal slant than the Times, the result suggested that newspapers really do influence the way people think and vote.

Professor Groseclose contended that the general leftward bias of the media has shifted the “political quotient” or “PQ” of the average American by about 20 points on a scale of 100, the difference between (i) the current political views of the average American and (ii) the political views of the average resident of Orange County, California or Salt Lake County, Utah. Professor Groseclose suggested that media bias aids Democratic candidates in a typical election by about 8-10 percentage points.

That certainly seems a fair estimate of the built-in deficit facing Republicans in Minnesota. In Minnesota, however, it would be impossible to conduct an experiment such as the one performed by the Yale researchers. There is no conservative counterpart to the Star Tribune, either in hard copy or online. Someone needs to do something. Acknowledgment of the problem — overcoming the absurd denial of the Star Tribune itself — would be a beginning.

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