Left Turn by Tim Groseclose
Dr. Tim Groseclose, a professor of political science and economics at UCLA, has spent years constructing precise, quantitative measures of the slant of media outlets. He does this by measuring the political content of news, as a way to measure the PQ, or “political quotient” of voters and politicians.
Among his conclusions are: (i) all mainstream media outlets have a liberal bias; and (ii) while some supposedly conservative outlets–such the “Washington Times “or Fox News’ S”pecial Report”–do lean right, their conservative bias is less than the liberal bias of most mainstream outlets.
Groseclose contends that the general leftward bias of the media has shifted the PQ of the average American by about 20 points, on a scale of 100, the difference between the current political views of the average American, and the political views of the average resident of Orange County, California or Salt Lake County, Utah. With “Left Turn “readers can easily calculate their own PQ–to decide for themselves if the bias exists. This timely, much-needed study brings fact to this often overheated debate.
I wish that the cover of this book included this: “And I can prove it — with Science!”
See, sometimes I wonder: When I find conservative political arguments convincing, is it only because I (usually) already believe the propositions, or is it because the arguments are factually and logically sound? Above everything, I am interested in the truth and reason; personal feeling and “agenda” come second (and hopefully are subject to what is true). Often, when considering a particular political or theological issue, I’ll just wish that I could know what is absolutely true, whether it accords with my beliefs or not.
So that is the main reason that I loved this book and think it is probably one of the most important books written in the last several decades. Because the main conclusions of this book — that the media is plagued by liberal bias and that this does affect the average American — are based on numbers that are spit out by unbiased mathematical equations. In order to take issue with the results, one must actually prove that there is an error in the equations and data. (And Groseclose points out that the results were originally published in an elite academic journal in 2005, and no one has yet proposed any such errors. Even brilliant liberals have attested to the accuracy and soundness of his method.)
Groseclose did not know that his huge 8-year research project would come to these conclusions. His concern was only to put the “science” into “political science”, for once. This book painstakingly explains his thought process, how distortion theory works, how the political and slant quotients are computed, the several different ways bias was measured, and how this bias has actually affected the American public (Groseclose posits that, had it not been for the media, McCain would have beaten Obama soundly). He takes you through the equations and the graphs and the numbers.
And throughout it all, Groseclose goes to great lengths to be generous with his conclusions. Of the numbers that his equations spit out, he uses the conservative results to compute bias (meaning that, if anything, he ends up understating liberal media bias). He is candid and straightforward and charitable when evaluating people’s intentions. This book is incredibly even-handed.
In the end, Groseclose proposes two measures which he thinks will help to remedy this disconnect between the media and the average American. First, he recommends that journalists spend more time around conservatives (he demonstrates early on that, overwhelmingly, they are currently exposed to very few actual conservatives). Second, he proposes that journalists state outright their political views (perhaps listing them on the network websites), which they currently guard like state secrets. In doing this, Groseclose says that journalists will be more like politicians — with the latter, at least, you usually know where they stand and aren’t suckered into believing they’re truly unbiased. There are measures in place to ensure that politicians are accountable to their constituents, while there aren’t any such measures to keep journalists honest.
I was riveted by this book and amazed by how much work and time and effort must have gone into it over the years. I am grateful to Groseclose for that and believe he has made a significant contribution to political and social thought.
That said, if anyone who happens to read this is aware of a worthwhile refutation of Groseclose’s conclusions/methodology, then I would appreciate being linked. As I said, truth is my greatest concern.
Also, if you are interested in computing your own Political Quotient (PQ – an estimation of your liberalness, or lack thereof), you can do so at Groseclose’s website.