I want to thank Mike for his effort in finding the 2005 research study from UCLA. I feel it was a thoughtful thing to do on his part because it tries to place the discussion on more solid ground, and because it tries to look at the facts behind everybody’s claims. It aims to get to the truth at what we are trying to figure out together and not simply the partisan rhetoric.
I think that in some ways the study has made its point and there is some rightness that I have to acknowledge in the point the study is making and the point that Mike is trying to make by bringing the study up. Yes, there is media bias, in some cases from the left and in some cases from the right, and that this will work against the Republicans in some cases just as it will work against the Democrats in the others. The somewhat surprising rankings of the various media outlets the study produces are probably accurate given the standard against which these outlets are being measured. I believe that in all this, the researchers and Mike have an excellent point and one which is well worth taking into account.
The suggestion that Mike makes that because the article was published during a Republican administration and that we are now in a Democratic administration the conditions now are worse, I must disagree with. First, the big example of the most liberal news outlet, The Wall Street Journal, is now owned by Rupert Murdock and is a very conservative news outlet; and, second, the entire method of measurement has to do with how the votes in congress are judged to fall by political orientation, to the left or to the right, so what is liberal and what is conservative in terms of news reportage (in this study) will change from one year to the next. A person’s feel for what is liberal or what is conservative, in other words, doesn’t count in this study, and what Mike might think or what I might think doesn’t affect the actual measurement.
That’s both an advantage and a disadvantage.
In doing a study like this, one of the biggest problems is in establishing a measurement of what is the political center. I think this study made a brave attempt to establish what the political center is. There is much that is satisfactory about the scheme they’ve come up with, but also much that simply doesn’t work. In the study, the notion of the political center changes from year to year; in one year, it might be very liberal to think of social security as a keystone government program; in another, it might be very conservative. Then, if a particular news outlet takes a solid stand for social security, in year one, it will show liberal bias and in year two it will show conservative bias — if it’s evaluated by the standards of this study. That would be with the same stance.
I’ve spoken about this sort of thing before when I’ve spoken of the rightward drift of American politics and of how President Obama — for me at least — seems more like a liberal Republican than a left wing Democrat: More like an Eisenhower or a Rockefeller than an LBJ or a Ted Kennedy.
To my mind there are and always have been conservative Democrats who vote with the conservatives in the Republican Party. The Republicans have been skewing their party to the right for 30 years, even funding more conservative candidates by preference over less conservative ones within their own party. This, I believe, gives us an artificial understanding of where the actual center lies in this country. And this is why I believe that the methodology of this study is flawed. It measures the political spectrum of legislators and not the population as a whole, and it makes the assumption that the legislators work for the people who voted for them rather than the people who funded the winning campaigns. I believe this assumption to be at best questionable and most likely to be false.
The study was definitely worthy of publication and consideration; but I believe, because of the methodological flaw I discussed above, must be applauded as a brilliant early attempt and not as definitive. Again, I’d like to thank Mike for bringing it up.