Left Turn: How Liberal Media Bias Distorts the American Mind

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Overview

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’ Special 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.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“With knowledge there is victory and power.  This book helps Americans learn the truth and discover how we are being manipulated by the mainstream media.  It is hard to understate how brilliant and insightful Left Turn is.  It is, I believe, one of the most important books ever written about American politics.”—Congressman Paul Broun, M.D. (R-Ga.)

“I’m no conservative, but I loved Left Turn.  Tim Groseclose has written the best kind of book: one that is firmly anchored in rigorous academic research, but is still so much fun to read that it is hard to put down.  Liberals will not like the conclusions of this book, which in my opinion, is all the more reason why they should want to read it.”—Steven Levitt, Professor of Economics, University of Chicago, and co-author of Freakonomics.

"This book—an evolution from the pioneering article in the 2005 Quarterly Journal of Economics by Groseclose and Jeffrey Milyo—uses a clever statistical technique to construct an objective measure of conservative or liberal bias in news coverage.  This method and those now adopted by other serious researchers show clearly that most U.S. news outlets lean left.  Most frighteningly, we learn that the media bias actually affects the ways that people think and vote.”—Robert Barro, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, and Senior Fellow, Hoover Institution.

"This book serves up the most convincing evidence for media bias I have seen, ever.  Tim Groseclose is the leading academic scholar in the area, but this is a smartly-written book which every person can read for enlightenment and also for pleasure."—Tyler Cowen, Professor of  Economics, George Mason University, and co-author of the internationally acclaimed economics blog, MarginalRevolution.com.

"In writing this book Professor Groseclose has done a great service for our country."

—Congressman Allen West (R-Fla.), (Lt. Col. U.S. Army, ret.)

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312555931
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 7/19/2011
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.54 (w) x 8.54 (h) x 1.02 (d)

Meet the Author

TIM GROSECLOSE is the Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics at UCLA. He has joint appointments in the political science and economics departments. He has held previous faculty appointments at Caltech, Stanford University, Ohio State University, Harvard University, and Carnegie Mellon University

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Read an Excerpt

  1.   What Are PQs and How Do They Reveal Media Bias?

 

“COME ON. POLITICAL science isn’t really a science,” said my friend Dawson Engler one day, trying to goad me.

Engler, one of the country’s premier computer scientists, is currently a professor at Stanford, where his specialty is operating systems. He has constructed his own operating system … twice.

He is the type of person who succeeds at nearly anything he tries. Born in Yuma, Arizona, during high school he placed second in the “Teenage Mr. Arizona” bodybuilding contest. After graduating from Arizona State University, he enrolled in the highly prestigious computer-science PhD program at MIT. It is unusual for a PhD student to publish a paper in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Yet Engler published eight while a doctoral student. Shortly after Stanford hired him, for a brief period he dated one of the actresses from Baywatch.

When Engler goaded me, both of us held positions at MIT, and he knew that my position was in the political-science department. At MIT, which is filled with “real” scientists and engineers, you often hear quips like Engler’s. So when he made it, I was prepared.

“Look,” I said. “We can both agree that if you can graph something, then you can describe it mathematically.”

“Yeah,” said Engler.

“And people, all the time, talk about politicians being left wing or right wing.”

“Okay,” said Engler.

“And so if a position is left wing or right wing, then you can graph it.… Which means you can describe it mathematically.… Which means it’s science.”

Engler smiled. I don’t think I really convinced him, but he didn’t goad me any further. At least in my mind, I’d won the day’s debate.

*   *   *

WITHIN POLITICAL SCIENCE a small industry exists to do the “science” that I described to Engler: to calculate precise, numerical measurements that describe the liberalness or conservativeness of politicians. In fact, at the time Engler made his quip, I was working on such a project. Indeed, the political quotients that I describe in this book are based on that research.

A person’s PQ is a number, generally between 0 and 100, that describes how liberal he or she is. I have created a Web site, www.timgroseclose.com/calculate-your-pq, which allows you to compute your own PQ. I have computed PQs for members of Congress by observing their record on roll call votes.

By answering the following ten questions,1 you can get a rough approximation of your PQ. When you answer the questions, try to put yourself in the shoes of the members of Congress and decide how you would have voted at the time that the politicians considered the measure. For instance, some people feel that the “Cash for Clunkers” program was not as successful as they hoped or thought it would be. Accordingly, when you answer the question related to this program—as well as when you answer the other questions—think about your opinion of the issue when it was considered in Congress, not necessarily about how you feel about it now.

 1.    On January 29, 2009, the Senate passed the SCHIP bill (State Children’s Health Insurance Program). The bill would provide matching funds to states for health insurance to families with children. The funds would be limited to families with incomes less than three times the federal poverty level. The cost would be offset by increasing the federal tax on cigarettes from $0.61 to $1.00 a pack. Democrats voted 58–0 in favor of the bill; Republicans voted 8–32 against the bill.2

a. I would have favored the bill.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed the bill.

 2.    On February 26, 2009, the Senate passed the District of Columbia House Voting Rights Act. The act would create a House district for D.C., and simultaneously create an additional House district in Utah. The Utah district would be subject to change or elimination by future censuses. The act would give D.C. one vote in the Electoral College, however it would not give D.C. representation in the Senate. Democrats favored the bill 56–2; Republicans opposed it 5–35.

a. I would have favored the bill.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed the bill.

 3.    On April 1, 2009, the House passed a bill that would limit the bonuses of executives if their company received TARP (Troubled Asset Relief Program) funds. It granted authority to the secretary of the treasury to set standards for such executive compensation, including determining what is “excessive compensation.” Democrats favored the bill 236–8; Republicans opposed it 11–163.

a. I would have favored the bill.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed the bill.

 4.    On April 30, 2009, Senator Richard Durbin proposed an amendment to the Helping Families Save Their Homes Act. His amendment, titled “Prevention of Mortgage Foreclosures,” was sometimes called the “cramdown” provision. According to the provision, if a homeowner’s income was low enough (less than 80 percent of the median income), then a bankruptcy judge could reduce the level of the interest and principle that the home owner owed on a mortgage. Democrats favored the amendment 45–12; Republicans opposed it 0–39.

a. I would have favored the amendment.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed the amendment.

 5.    On June 18, 2009, the House considered a major appropriations bill. Jerry Lewis, a Republican from California, introduced an amendment to the bill that would bar funds from being used to shut down the Guantánamo Bay prison. The amendment would have acted against an executive order that President Obama had issued to close the facility. Democrats opposed the amendment 39–213; Republicans favored the amendment 173–3.

a. I would have opposed the amendment (that is, I would have favored shutting down Guantánamo).

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have favored the amendment.

 6.    On June 26, 2009, the House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the main provision of which was to create a “cap and trade system.” Under the system, energy producers would be allotted a cap on the pollutants they could emit, but they could buy credits from other energy producers if they wanted to emit more pollutants. Or, if they emitted less pollutants than their cap, they could sell some of their credits to other producers. The bill set a target of reducing emissions to 83 percent of the 2005 level by the year 2050. The act also included several billions of dollars for incentives for businesses to invest in green technologies. Democrats favored the bill 210–43; Republicans opposed it 8–169.

a. I would have favored the bill.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed the bill.

 7.    On July 31, 2009, the House passed the “Cash for Clunkers” bill (officially named “The Consumer Assistance to Recycle and Save Program). It provided $2 billion in vouchers to people who traded in an older, less fuel-efficient car and bought a newer, more fuel-efficient car. Democrats favored the bill 238–14; Republicans opposed it 78–95.

a. I would have favored the bill.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed the bill.

 8.    On August 26, 2009, the Senate voted on the confirmation of Sonia Sotomayor to be a justice on the Supreme Court. Democrats favored her confirmation 58–0; Republicans opposed it 9–31.

a. I would have favored her confirmation.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed her confirmation.

 9.    On November 8, 2009, the Senate considered an amendment proposed by Senator Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) to the “Obamacare” health bill. His amendment would have barred federal money to be used to pay for an abortion. Further, federal money could not help pay for any health plan that covered abortions. The Democrats opposed the amendment 7–52; Republicans favored it 38–2. (Technically, the vote was on a motion by Barbara Boxer to table the Nelson amendment.)

a. I would have opposed the amendment.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have favored the amendment.

10.  On December 15, 2009, the Senate voted on a provision to allow U.S. citizens to import prescription drugs. Most important, it would have allowed citizens to order prescription drugs from Canadian pharmacies, which often sold the drugs at lower prices than U.S. pharmacies did. (The provision was the Dorgan amendment to the Reid amendment to the Pharmaceutical Market Access and Drug Safety Act.) Democrats opposed the measure 28–31; Republicans favored it 23–17.

a. I would have favored the provision.

b. I can’t decide.

c. I would have opposed the provision.

Give yourself ten points for each time that you answered “a,” five points for each “b,” and zero points for each “c.” Next, add up the points. That is approximately your PQ.

One feature of the PQ is that it is constructed from roll call votes in Congress. This means that simply by noting how members of Congress voted on those roll calls, I can calculate their PQs, and you can compare your PQ to theirs. The following are the PQs of some well-known politicians.

PQs and Media Bias

Perhaps the main contribution of the book is that it uses PQs to judge media bias. To do this, I conduct the following thought experiment. Suppose you were given a set of stories that a media outlet reported. But suppose, instead of knowing that they were news stories, you were told that they were speeches by a politician. After reading the would-be speeches, what would you guess to be the PQ of the would-be politician?

I define the slant quotient, or SQ, of an outlet as the solution to that thought experiment. In the article that Milyo and I wrote for the Quarterly Journal of Economics, we developed a statistical technique that calculates a precise, numerical SQ for the twenty news outlets that we examined. We found, for instance, that The New York Times has an SQ of 74, which is approximately the PQ of Sen. Joseph Lieberman.

The primary data that we used were citations to think tanks. This means that The New York Times’s citation patterns to left-wing, centrist, and right-wing think tanks were very similar to the patterns that Joe Lieberman adopted when he made speeches on the Senate floor.

The following figure illustrates the main results of that article. For now, the details behind the figure are unimportant. (But I will explain them in a later chapter). What is important is that, as the figure shows, we can describe numerically (i) the political views of politicians and (ii) the slants of various media outlets. Further, we can map these two sets of numbers to the same scale.

Despite what my hard-science friends might say, it is possible to analyze politics, including media bias, objectively, numerically, and, yes, scientifically.

 

Copyright © 2011 by Tim Groseclose

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Table of Contents

Preface vii

Introduction 1

Part I Political Quotients and the Science of Politics 9

1 What Are PQs and How Do They Reveal Media Bias? 11

2 Caught in a Trap: Problems in Judging Media Bias 18

3 But I've Been to Oklahoma 26

4 Ps and Qs of PQs 36

5 Defining the "Center" 48

Part II A Distortion Theory of Media Bias 61

6 Lies, Damned Lies, and Omitted Statistics: A Case Study in Distortion Theory 63

7 Hidden Under a Bushel 78

8 An "Alien" Conservative Injected into a Liberal Newsroom and the Topics She Might Cover 89

Part III Evidence of Liberal Media Bias 97

9 Political Views in the Newsroom: Viva Homogeneity 99

10 The Second-Order Problem of an Unbalanced Newsroom 111

11 The Anti-Newsroom, Washington County, Utah 123

12 Walk a Mile in the Shoes of a Centrist 136

13 "Wise Men from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities Say…" 151

14 The Language of Journalists and the Special Case of Partial-Birth Abortion 161

15 The Language of Journalists and the Gentzkow-Shapiro Measure of Media Bias 169

16 Facts About the Bush Tax Cuts: Another Way to Measure Media Bias Objectively and Quantitatively 178

17 The Media Mu 192

Part IV Effects of Media Bias 199

18 Measuring the Influence of the Media I: Many Methods False and Spent, and One That's Not 201

19 Measuring the Influence of the Media II: Two More Groundbreaking Experiments 213

20 The Media Lambda 219

21 Rendezvous with Clarity 234

22 Walk a Mile in the Shoes of a Centrist … Whose Mind Has Not Been Distorted by Media Bias 241

Epilogue: Small Steps Toward a Better Media 249

Acknowledgments 257

Notes 261

Index 279

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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted September 17, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Very interesting

    The author hypothesizes that there is a left wing media bias in the mainstream media today, but not only does he try to prove it, he also attempts to quantify exactly how far to the left any certain media outlet leans. I felt that he did the job quite well; I was amazed that each time I felt that there might be a problem with his statistical analysis, he addressed it in one way or another.
    I thought the book was interesting and very thoroughly researched. There was always a different angle or wrinkle in each chapter to keep it moving along. The one suggestion I do have is to get the book off the shelf and not on an e reader. I read it on my nook and could not get the charts to come up in larger print. While some of the tables just had statistical information, some of the information, like the "media mu" was very important to the point the author was trying to make.
    Overall, great read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted August 6, 2012

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    Great book for ALL to read, regardless of left or right leanings

    Professor Groseclose does a great job with Left Turn, informing you with objective data, some great analysis, and some key ideas to keep in mind as you read your newspaper, watch the evening news, or sit back and ponder the big issues being discussed. Now, if you believe that most of the MainStream Media (MSM) is down-the-middle and unbiased, this book will be a bit of a shock, as Doc Groseclose does what a good college professor should -- he brings DATA to back up his theories and thoughts. But I don't want to dwell on the Left vs. Right aspects of the book (as I think anyone with an open mind can gain some insight from Left Turn), and instead I want to share the one realization I came to after reading the book: Forgetting the possible (although, if you read the book, more likely-than-not) bias in HOW a story is reported in the MSM, the bigger concern is WHAT is being reported. WHAT stories a reporter selects to report on is JUST as important as HOW they report a story. This realization alone should open some minds to see our MSM for what it really is - a subjective representation of stories and events, not only told through a mostly-leftleaning vision, but also selected through a similar vision. Great book overall.

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  • Posted August 4, 2012

    Biased...

    I have to admit that I didn't continue reading, but from what I did read, I found the author to be incredibly conservatively biased. If he's writing a book about eliminating bias, isn't it disturbing that the author himself explicitly says liberals have no manners? Or that the ideal PQ should be 25 instead of 50?

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 10, 2012

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    Thorough and Rigorous

    In a different universe, a book like this one would never have been written. Not because it’s in any way false (it’s as far from it as it is intellectually possible), nor because its subject matter is uninteresting or boring. No, this kind of book ought not to have been written because in a perfectly honest world there would be absolutely no need for it. The fact that most of the media outlets lean heavily to the left should be so patently obvious to any intellectually honest person that a book like this one would be stacked in the bookstore between the book proving that the sky is blue and the one demonstrating the wetness of water. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfectly honest world, so there is a great need for a book like the “Left Turn” – a honest and rigorous analysis of the extent and the nature of the left wing bias in the media.

    There have been many other books dealing with this topics written over the past couple of decades, and each one of them had an interesting and insightful take on the topic of left wing media bias. However, what distinguishes the “Left Turn” is its scope, accuracy, and the academically accepted high standards of research. The author, Tim Groseclose, is a distinguished social scientist, and all the work upon which this book is based has previously appeared in high-level peer reviewed journals. This doesn’t necessarily mean that his work is free of error of any kind, but it significantly raises the bar for anyone who wants to have it dismissed out of hand.

    One of the main lessons that anyone can take from reading this book is that political bias is a very real thing, it is possible to operationally define it, it is possible to measure it, and most importantly it is possible to draw meaningful conclusion about individuals and institutions that embody different degrees of bias. Bias, in itself, doesn’t mean that the individuals and media outlets are outright lying in order to present the stories and information in a way that favors their own “side.” That sort of bias does exist, but it’s relatively small compared to the main sources of bias in the media – selectively presenting facts and stories in such a way that the fully picture gets irrevocably distorted. Groseclose shows examples of how that sort of bias operates, and gives an estimate of the extent to which the twenty most significant news sources in the US are biased. (Newsflash – except Fox News and Washington Times all of them lean to the left.)

    One of my favorite chapters in the book is the one in which Groseclose decides to try to visit a US city that leans to the right by an approximately same amount as the typical newsroom leans to the left. This is an almost impossible task, and he only approximately succeeds by visiting a small town in Utah, dominated by Mormons and settled by the southerners in the 19th century. Even so, the place is generally congenial to all of its residents (even the head of the local Democratic party) and a far cry from the shrill extreme left rhetoric and attitude that is found in most news sources these days.

    The final sections of the book discuss some really remarkable claims: were it not for the extreme media bias the US population as a whole would be tilting even more to the right. In other words, if all of the media outlets overnight decided to be perfectly “moderate” on all of their news coverage, they would still be substantially to the left of what most public would find to be the “natural” po

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    Posted March 19, 2012

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