Contributor Post Created with Sketch. 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.

There are 11 comments.

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  1. Mel Foil Inactive

    Media Matters should rather seek a tax exemption under their Church of Satan affiliation.

    • #1
    • August 23, 2011, at 7:32 AM PDT
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  2. Lockdowns are Precious Inactive
    Lockdowns are Precious Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    I’d forgotten about the woebegone days of Eric Alterman, an author who enfeebles parody with an enviable piety. To paraphrase “he who never posts here”:

    “you’d have to have a heart of stone not to burst out laughing at his stirring 2003 defense of the saintly Paul Krugman bravely railing against the vast visigoth horde of Murcoch inspired Anglo Saxon grammar impaired mutants setting upon the towers of the New York Times’ VP of A Priori Banalities and Insipid Bromides.”

    Its a nice touch too how he enlists the help of Zowie Howie Kurtz as his papal nuncio when he pays a royal visit by jumbo jet all the while sniffing about the knuckleheads in flyover country.

    He’s a Distinguished Professor of Journalism ya know. The small print reads Chapter 11.

    • #2
    • August 23, 2011, at 7:35 AM PDT
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  3. Robert Dammers Thatcher
    Robert Dammers Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Thank you for the link to your paper which I had so thoroughly misremembered.

    What an unpleasant and unreasoning person Eric Alterman reveals himself to be. I wish you strength in keeping that in perspective.

    • #3
    • August 23, 2011, at 8:11 AM PDT
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  4. SteveS Inactive

    How can that man see the paper or keyboard to write for heavens’ sake! His nose is so vertical he can probably sniff the back of his neck without effort! I’m sure if he could get an honest wiff he would smell the same offensive odor that permeates his dribble.

    Tim, your quote from your book about the far left’s over reaction to anything that may get in the way of equality reminds me of where this issue was first discussed.

    The Serpent, it says in Genesis, was more crafty then any beast of the field and when tempting Eve to partake of the fruit from the Tree of The Knowledge of Good an Evil he said ” has God said not to eat of it or touch it lest you die?”(question the truth) he then continues with ” He knows the day you eat of it your eyes will be open and you will be like Him (ultimate equality) knowing good and evil.”

    Keep fighting the fight!

    P.S. Pseudodionysius, are your initials J.L.? just wondering!

    • #4
    • August 23, 2011, at 8:20 AM PDT
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  5. Lockdowns are Precious Inactive
    Lockdowns are Precious Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    P.S. Pseudodionysius, are your initials J.L.? just wondering!

    Jennifer Lopez?

    • #5
    • August 23, 2011, at 8:29 AM PDT
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  6. Mark Wilson Member
    Mark Wilson Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Tim Groseclose:

    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.

    Your statement about having to “force back tears” caught me off-guard. I had to reread the email to see what it was that gets you, and I have to guess it was the quoted passage above. To have the sincere respect of a peer who admires your work, recognizes your adherence to the highest ideals of your profession, and honors you with such a defense of your character is something to be cherished.

    • #6
    • August 23, 2011, at 9:30 AM PDT
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  7. SteveS Inactive
    Pseudodionysius: P.S. Pseudodionysius, are your initials J.L.? just wondering!

    Jennifer Lopez? · Aug 23 at 8:29am

    J Lo , Would you agree that having one’s segues trampled upon is most egregious, especially when perpetrated by those of a squishy nature?

    • #7
    • August 23, 2011, at 9:52 AM PDT
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  8. Lockdowns are Precious Inactive
    Lockdowns are Precious Joined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member
    Stephen S.

    Pseudodionysius: P.S. Pseudodionysius, are your initials J.L.? just wondering!

    Jennifer Lopez? · Aug 23 at 8:29am

    J Lo , Would you agree that having one’s segues trampled upon is most egregious, especially when perpetrated by those of a squishy nature? · Aug 23 at 9:52am

    Only when one’s height of offense is measured by the depths of one’s soles.

    • #8
    • August 23, 2011, at 10:35 AM PDT
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  9. SteveS Inactive
    Pseudodionysius

    Stephen S.

    Pseudodionysius: P.S. Pseudodionysius, are your initials J.L.? just wondering!

    Jennifer Lopez? · Aug 23 at 8:29am

    J Lo , Would you agree that having one’s segues trampled upon is most egregious, especially when perpetrated by those of a squishy nature? · Aug 23 at 9:52am
    Only when one’s height of offense is measured by the depths of one’s soles. · Aug 23 at 10:35am

    Thanks for your answer, Pseudo

    Europe is wonderful this time of year and a great choice for a vacation I always say!

    • #9
    • August 23, 2011, at 10:52 AM PDT
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  10. Paul A. Rahe Contributor

    This is strange. Eric Alterman has written eight books, and I do not know him from Adam. Tim, I think that you hurt his feelings when you failed to say that he was a distinguished professor who had written eight books. Any man who needs to be stroked like that deserves our pity.

    • #10
    • August 24, 2011, at 4:45 AM PDT
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  11. Mimi Inactive

    Fascinating. I admire your work, which creates a totally new way to reference the world we live in. I suppose it is possible to get a PQ of politicians that measures how much to the left or the right they are of their party leaders at specific times, and from that be able to predict if party leaders are very strong, not too strong, or really weak, and see this as raw data.

    • #11
    • August 24, 2011, at 12:52 PM PDT
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