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Numbers on media bias (or not)

by Greg Krehbiel on 1 August 2017

The Washington Post tells us Another conservative House Republican calls on Mueller to resign. Which raises the question, how often do they specify that a House member is conservative vs. how often do they specify that a House member is liberal?

I often wonder this when I listen to NPR. They seem to take great care to mention when a guest is from a conservative organization, but don’t say when someone is from a liberal organization. But that’s just based on my impressions. I don’t have counts.

I don’t have the tools to do any serious research on how often The Washington Post uses which words, but here are a few interesting counts on google hits for various phrases.

“conservative House lawmaker” – 422
“liberal House lawmaker” – 111

“conservative House member” – 5,060
“liberal House member” – 2,250

That might make you think they’re more likely to call somebody conservative than liberal. But then there’s this.

“conservative Republican” – 548,000
“liberal Democrat” – 4,110,000

“conservative senator” – 120,000
“liberal senator” – 384,000

2017-08-01  »  Greg Krehbiel

Talkback x 13

  1. William
    1 August 2017 @ 2:48 pm

    IMO, media is primarily driven by what sells and is attention-grabbing. If a certain term creates a buzz, they go for it. Therefore, usage frequency may be skewed, at times, based on what’s hot at given moment.

  2. Scott Wicker
    1 August 2017 @ 3:23 pm

    Regarding NPR:

    Of course NPR takes great pains to identify any guest who leans conservative. That’s a big deal for them. They promote liberal viewpoints day and night, and anything remotely smacking of conservatism is a rare event, kinda like a visit by Haley’s Comet.

  3. pentamom
    1 August 2017 @ 6:29 pm

    The Google thing is pretty unscientific, to be sure. An explanation that comes quickly to mind for why the “conservative Republican”/”liberal Democrat” one *could* be not reflective (I have no idea of whether it is) is that there’s a certain kind of conservative who simply can’t utter or write the word Democrat without putting “liberal” in front of it, almost like it’s one word. That means that whatever media bias may be, blogs and comment sections and whatever else are going to be full of people who say “liberal Democrat” every stinkin’ single time they say Democrat — but I don’t think there’s any comparable reflex on the left for “conservative Republican.” The most boneheaded and vitriolic of leftists, instead of doing that, just spit out the word Republican as though no possible modifier could make it worse anyway.

  4. Greg Krehbiel Greg Krehbiel
    2 August 2017 @ 7:12 am

    Yes, Google hits would include blogs, which would skew the statistics. You can hardly measure “media bias” by what’s said on blogs.

  5. Ken Crawford
    2 August 2017 @ 12:43 pm

    Could it be that they’re more likely to mention it not based on political bias but instead based on when (from the author’s point of view) it is outside the norm?

    In other words, since the house has more Republicans, there is more of a need to point out when one is part of a subset of Republicans who leans more conservative than the norm. But when talking about Republicans as a whole, they’re assumed to be conservative, thus the low hit count versus liberal Democrats where it is less assumed.

    Of course there are all sorts of biases hiding in those above statements.

  6. pentamom
    2 August 2017 @ 12:51 pm

    Ken Crawford, that would be a reasonable explanation for why the differences could have a reasonable basis.

    But though I wouldn’t chalk it all up to willful bias, I’m also far from thinking that it’s likely that the most reasonable explanation accounts for media behavior (or human behavior in general.)

  7. Derek
    3 August 2017 @ 10:08 pm

    I remember years ago hearing the major network news programs say, right before a state of the union address, “there is the very conservative Jesse Helms.” And then right after say, “and there is Ted Kennedy, the lion of the senate”. I noted the clear difference.

  8. William
    3 August 2017 @ 11:30 pm

    Like Derek, I’ve noticed a clear difference in watching some network news programs, notably Fox News. The term “liberal” seems to find its way into many stories (in not so complimentary ways). Interestingly enough, they recently dropped their signature slogan “Fair and Balanced”.

  9. Derek
    4 August 2017 @ 11:59 pm

    William, the major news networks have been doing the biased thing ( against conservatives) for 50 years. Hell, Cronkite admitted he was liberal and felt all journalists should be as well. What a douche.

  10. William
    5 August 2017 @ 12:22 am

    Derek, agreed. Yet, it happens on both sides.

  11. William
    5 August 2017 @ 5:49 am

    PS–Cronkite may have had a different definition of “liberal” than what is colloquially used today.

    “I think being a liberal, in the true sense, is being nondoctrinaire, nondogmatic, non-committed to a cause – but examining each case on its merits. Being left of center is another thing; it’s a political position. I think most newspapermen by definition have to be liberal; if they’re not liberal, by my definition of it, then they can hardly be good newspapermen. If they’re preordained dogmatists for a cause, then they can’t be very good journalists; that is, if they carry it into their journalism.”

  12. Robin R.
    5 August 2017 @ 7:13 am

    We all know that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” keep shifting not only according to the interest of those who use them, not to mention historical situations. I myself have been branded by both on various occasions.

  13. Robin R.
    5 August 2017 @ 7:15 am

    “not to mention” –> “but also as a result of”