Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Let's look at the numbers

Even Howie Kurtz has to admit that a new study published by Harvard is hard to dismiss (even if the study was done by Michael Tomasky). It measures the partisan nature of the editorial pages of the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times. Guess what? Turns out Alterman was right:

1. When it comes to taking policy positions, the liberal and conservative editorial pages studied are more or less equally partisan with regard to criticizing the other side. For example, The New York Times opposed the Bush tax cut about as often, and about as strongly, as The Wall Street Journal opposed the Clinton stimulus package. The conservative papers tended toward more forceful language, as we will see below, but the positions taken were roughly equivalent. However, when it came to dealing with their own side, the liberal papers were far more balanced, which leads into the second conclusion.

2. As a rule, the liberal editorial pages were much more willing to criticize the Democratic administration than the conservative pages were willing to criticize the Republican administration. This happened, to be sure, in the case of Clinton signing the 1996welfare-reform bill (i.e., going against the liberal papers’ beliefs), but it also happened in other instances, leading to the conclusion that the liberal editorial pages were more evenhanded in their treatment of parallel episodes, particularly under the politics/process rubric, where the liberal papers were eight times more critical of Clinton than the conservative papers were of Bush.

3. Also as a rule, the liberal editorial pages were somewhat more willing to give the Bush administration credit where they felt it was due. They were not lavish in their praise of Bush by any means; on the other hand, the conservative newspapers virtually never praised Clinton. In the 148 conservative editorials on the Clinton administration under study here, just four were deemed “positive,” and three of those, as we shall see, carry rather meaningful asterisks.

While Alterman pretty much already proved this in the first chapter of his book by pointing out how many conservatives write for the Times and the Post, it's nice to see this in a study, especially one that leaves out the Lewinsky scandal completely. It shows that, even on an issue-by-issue basis, the "liberal" newspapers are actually more moderate, but the conservative newspapers are hardcore righties.

Go read the whole report. It's interesting. As you read it, think about how nice it is to read something thoughtful and substantive about the media. Then go read Bozell. You'll be glad you're a Democrat.


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