Media bias and the Hostile Media Effect

Yes, media biases are real and worth studying. No, Groseclose did not find the right way to do that study.

Responding to the post about Max Boot and the Groseclose studies of “liberal media bias,” commenter Dilan Esper writes

In my experience, everyone thinks the media is biased against their side. Which is why I find “media bias” arguments to be among the dullest and most silly arguments out there.

Commenter “rachelrachel,” supporting Dilan, points to the documented “Hostile Media Effect”: most participants in a dispute feel that their side has not gotten a fair shake in the way that dispute is reported.

Dilan and rachelrachel think that ends the argument. I disagree. There are matters of fact to study; it’s just that studying them is very hard.

Almost all sports fans think the officials are biased against their favorite teams. But not all of them are wrong. There are examples of clearly biased officiating, based on personal animus, institutional pressures, the desire to please the “home” crowd, or simple corruption. So if someone tells you his team got cheated by bad officiating, you can’t just say “Everyone believes that” and let it go. He might be right.

In that case, I can imagine doing a study using independent analysis of game films to determine whether a given official, or the officiating in a given game, actually showed bias against one team.

Studying the political biases of the media – and it would be flat-out silly to say that no such biases exist – is hard both because there’s no neutral third party to judge and because the underlying facts are themselves in dispute, with only a few of those disputes resolvable the way the question of whether a player stepped outside the field is resolvable.

Of course it’s true that both libertarianism and Scandanavian-style social democracy are disfavored in American political reporting. Of course it’s true that “free trade” gets a good press and labor unionism gets a bad press. Of course it’s true on specific issues – e.g., welfare or education policy or public pensions – one side sometimes claims the mantle of “reform” and has that favorable label applied uncritically to its proposals by the media. Of course it’s true that proposals with very strong expert support but without strong organizational or economic bases – higher alcohol taxation, for example – never get a hearing at all. Other issues - whether smoking causes lung cancer in the reporting if the 1960s and 1970s, whether football damages brains and whether anthropogenic global warming poses a major threat to human welfare today - are treated as “controversial” even though the controversy is largely manufactured and the fact of the matter not subject to much legitimate dispute.

Megan McArle and Tyler Cowen read the newspapers and notice that that the viewpoint they favor doesn’t get a fair hearing, and in fact is often presented in such distorted form that they barely recognize it as their own. This is a source of huge frustration. When someone makes an academic-sounding noise that seems to vindicate their daily observation, it’s not surprising that they should eagerly embrace that finding.

Nor is it unreasonable, once that attempt has been discredited, for them to continue to seek out academically acceptable evidence that will convince those who don’t hold their viewpoint of what’s bloody obvious to anyone who does.

What is unreasonable, it seems to me, is to treat the positions of the contemporary Republican party and the positions of the contemporary Democratic party as the only two positions that deserve a hearing, to assume that they are equally valid, and to demand that the media be “neutral” as between them. Any analysis based on those three choices - Groseclose’s, for example - can only produce a nonsensical result.

The March on Washington, fifty years later

It’s the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. If you want to read something excellent about, read Harold Meyerson’s fantastic article on the contributions of Bayard Rustin and other democratic socialists to that day-and many others-in the civil rights struggle. Rustin’s career was a quiet tragedy. Had he been born ten or twenty years later, he would have been rightly recognized as one of the greatest political and strategic minds of his generation.

If you simply want to be moved by the grace of that moment of fifty years ago, this is pretty great, too.

If you want to find substance abuse, there are better people to test than SNAP recipients

House Republicans want to give states the authority to drug-test food stamp applicants. Yet as Sheldon Danziger and I discuss in Wonkblog today, young adults show much higher rates of drug and alcohol disorders than do SNAP recipients.



This suggests that sites such as the one below provide a more target-rich environment for drug-testing than does the SNAP counter at your local social service agency. (I suspect Jonathans Chait and Cohn would agree with me on this one.)


Continue reading “If you want to find substance abuse, there are better people to test than SNAP recipients”

An IOU response to John Goodman

Last month, John Goodman excoriated a Wonkblog piece I wrote, which had  criticized Greg Mankiw’s defense of the 1%. I argued that Mankiw fails to appreciate what we all owe each other, given our differing roles and resources in a prosperous, interconnected society. I was caring for my dad at the time, and so didn’t have an opportunity to post a proper answer.

You get a flavor of Goodman’s argument from this passage:

Pollack even individualizes his argument by describing help he got from a tow truck driver at road side. Presumably, the tow truck driver got paid. So there was a mutually beneficial exchange ― the kind of exchange that is at the heart of the free enterprise system. But Pollack thinks he owes the tow truck driver something more:

                       My taxes help provide his child with subsidized lunches and preschool. I help provide his family with health insurance. That’s as it should be. I still get a very good deal. He had my back. I should have his.

But wait a minute. What exactly does he owe the tow truck driver? Does he owe more or less than he owes people living on $1 a day? Or people living on $2 a day? Or…?

If the tow truck driver has a moral claim against Pollack, we never learn what it is….

In some ways this is all very surprising. After all, the 20th century was the century of collectivism. It was the century of communism, socialism, national socialism (fascism) and the welfare state. Each and every one of these isms was devoted to taking from some and giving to others. After all these years and all that misery you would think that someone, somewhere would have perfected an argument for forcible redistribution of income. And yet what we find today at the leftwing blogs is truly pitiful.

No doubt Goodman would find this liberal fascist perspective pitiful, too. Continue reading “An IOU response to John Goodman”

What Larry Summers should say

This weekend, I read the fascinating New York Times story by Louise Story and Annie Lowrey regarding Larry Summers’  baroque financial ties to prominent banks and Wall Street firms. I didn’t detect any disqualifying details. I’d bet that Summers—unlike most politicos-actually earns his money as a board member and consultant. He seems to be carving out a successful career in finance on the basis of intellect and genuine business insights, rather than simple insider connections.

He has the experience and brilliance to make a superb chairman of the Federal Reserve. I mean really: Who would you rather have at the helm in a bewildering world financial crisis?  The president obviously thinks the world of Summers, having gone to war alongside him on TARP, the auto bailout, and more. Summers’ policy values are also more progressive than many liberals would credit. (See, e.g., his fine book Understanding Unemployment.) See also Summers’ prior writings on global health and related matters.

Still, the millions of dollars and the complicated personal connections are more than an entertaining distraction. Especially now, in the aftermath of the housing bubble and the financial crisis, it behooves the next Fed chair to bring greater distance from an industry he would regulate, an industry whose depredations have so badly and so recently damaged the nation, and which has such excessive influence in Washington.

If I were Summers, I would call the president and say something like the following:

I am carving out a genuinely successful private-sector life that may move my personal wealth into the nine-figure range. At this delicate historic moment, I’m just too personally intermingled with the financial industry to step into the Fed slot. I am so grateful for your confidence in me, and for your willingness to entertain the possibility of me taking this role. Fortunately, we have a qualified person who is also pursuing the position, with whom I agree on most aspects of public policy. Let’s go in that direction. I have many ways to contribute to your presidency and to contribute beyond it. My stepping back at this moment is a good outcome for everyone.

There are many ways to serve. Sometimes, it’s important to lean in to fight for the brass ring. Other times, it’s important to lean back, and realize that other good people are available to do the job. Summers’ phone will ring again. It certainly should.

A Cheap Lesson in Free Market Environmentalism

August 12th 2013 is my parents’ 51st wedding anniversary.   To celebrate this day in my family’s life,  Amazon will give away free copies (just on Monday) of my e-book; Fundamentals of Environmental Economics: Solving Urban Pollution Problems.   I will learn what the demand curve for my book looks like. It is selling a few copies at a price of $2 and we will see how many more copies are sold at a price of $0!    Amazon gives authors the option to give away their books on certain days (up to 5 days).  Other publishers should consider this?   I don’t fully understand their business model but perhaps I’m not supposed to.

Continue reading “A Cheap Lesson in Free Market Environmentalism”

New UCLA Research on Long Run Trends in Word Use in U.S and U.K Books

You can’t always “get” what you want?    UCLA Professor Patricia Greenfield has a new empirical study documenting that the words “choose” and “get” rose significantly in frequency between books published in 1800 versus 2000, while “obliged” and “give” decreased significantly over these two centuries.    This is an interesting empirical finding and highlights how empirical humanities research will make advances.  She is quoted as attributing these trends to the rise of individualism and materialistic values.  How would she test this hypothesis?   A possible selection bias issue lurks here.   Who wrote books (and who read books)  in 1800 versus today?  Has the world changed or has the set of authors changed?

“Thank you” doesn’t begin to cover it

I’ve been listening to Rick Atkinson’s Liberation Trilogy, a magesterial history of the United States Army in Europe during World War II. This history is gripping, often painful, filled with courage, extreme violence, many fiascos and defeats along the path to ultimate victory. Driving my daughter to a college event today, I happened to encounter the gravestones below. “Thank you” doesn’t begin to cover it.

Continue reading ““Thank you” doesn’t begin to cover it”

My city was gone.

Superstar political scientist Robert Putnam (who was a wonderful employer and informal mentor to me, too many years ago) is now writing a book about the economic and social decline of his northern Ohio hometown. He provides a web preview in today’s New York Times. It begins:

My hometown — Port Clinton, Ohio, population 6,050 — was in the 1950s a passable embodiment of the American dream, a place that offered decent opportunity for the children of bankers and factory workers alike.

But a half-century later, wealthy kids park BMW convertibles in the Port Clinton High School lot next to decrepit “junkers” in which homeless classmates live. The American dream has morphed into a split-screen American nightmare. And the story of this small town, and the divergent destinies of its children, turns out to be sadly representative of America….

A previous semi-popular work raised similar themes.