Media Bias: The Article That Started It All, My Feud with Eric Alterman
Eight years ago, Professor Jeff Milyo and I decided to address the following assertion: “In social science we have lots of objective, quantitative measures that say how liberal or conservative politicians are. There ought to be something similar for the media.”
That began a research project, which eventually produced the article, “A Measure of Media Bias,” which was published in the Quarterly Journal of Economics.
Yesterday, National Review Online posted the first segment of my interview with Peter Robinson. In that segment Peter and I briefly discussed the article.
That article eventually led to my book Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind.
In the Introduction of Left Turn (which you can read here) I discuss the reactions to the article. While the responses of my academic colleagues were mostly fair and civil, the same was not true of leftwing bloggers. Indeed, there was a time that you could google “crap UCLA study” and most of the links that would appear on the first page would refer to my and Milyo’s article.
The most hostile response of all came from Eric Alterman, who accused Milyo and me of “Rigging the Numbers.” He also insinuated that we had rigged the numbers because rightwing groups had “invested” in us.
In the Introduction of Left Turn, I speculate about Alterman’s motivation:
At one level I can understand why so many leftwing strangers sent me angry emails, and why writers, like Eric Alterman at Media Matters, would say such false and vicious things about Milyo and me.
If people believe the results of our study, then they will begin to believe that they are not getting the whole truth from the media. They might begin to think, “Maybe lower taxes are a better idea than I thought.” “Maybe government should scale back its involvement in the economy.” “Maybe affirmative action is not such a great idea.”
Larry Greenfield, a fellow at the Claremont Institute, has made a profound observation about the psyche of the far left: “They worship the god of Equality.” A corollary of his observation is the following: While other virtues, such as kindness and honesty, are important, they are secondary when they clash with Equality.
Our study, at least in small ways, harms the goal of Equality. In at least small ways, it works to make U.S. public policy less “progressive” and less consistent with “social justice.” If you are an advocate of “social justice” and “progressive” values, then, even if you believe that our study is true, you should hate it. Further, if you value Equality more than other virtues, then it would be appropriate for you to conclude, “Smearing Groseclose and Milyo’s study is justified, even if the smears are false.” You would also be justified in attacking us personally, even saying false and vicious things about our character. As the leftwing icon Saul Alinsky advised, “Pick the target, freeze it, personalize it [my emphasis], and polarize it.”
Later in the Introduction, I described how one of my liberal colleagues responded to Alterman. That colleague, whom I call Byron B. Bright, might be the smartest political scientist on the planet. He is also a good friend. But because of our differing political views, we occasionally fight like brothers. Nevertheless, even though he generally agrees with Alterman’s political views, he was bothered by the incivility of Alterman’s essay. “Dear Mr. Alterman,” he wrote one day in an email, which he cc-ed to me:
I was very disappointed to read your review of my colleague Timothy Groseclose's paper on media bias. The lack of civility and the personal nature of your review struck a tone that I had not expected from you. …
As much as you and, indeed, I want to believe that the results of Tim's study are false, they are not the result of cooking the books. Tim is nothing if not careful. Yes, he is a conservative and, yes, I am sure he is pleased with the way the results turned out. But, the method was laid out before the data were collected and I am confident that the paper would have been published regardless of the outcome.
For what it is worth, here is the truth about the paper from someone who does not share Tim's politics. … It is academically honest research by careful and serious scholars who do not pursue a research agenda at the behest of any conservative patron.
It was a very decent act to do—and one that sometimes still causes me to force back tears when I describe it.
Fox and Friends learned about the story invited me to talk about it on air. Here’s the video of my discussion with Steve Doocy.
Here’s Eric Alterman’s response.