Thursday, February 23, 2012
I wonder why Ann Coulter wouldn't reveal what her score was?
The other day, listening to the latest podcast of Freakonomics, about bias in the media, I thought a couple of things:
1. I thought "Man, Freakonomics must have hit the bottom of the barrel on this report," because it was really thin: Their conclusion was "Newspapers slant their coverage to appeal to their readers," which is to say, "Newspapers try to sell products by identifying a market and then creating a product that market might want," which is to say "Newspapers are no different than any other business," in that businesses exist to make money and anything you think to the contrary is nonsense. (That goes for sports teams as businesses, too, a point I make frequently here.)
2. I thought "I wonder why Ann Coulter wouldn't reveal her score on Tim Groseclose's "Political Quotient" test? (The host asked her and she wouldn't give a score -- she just said she scored well into conservative, so she either hadn't taken it or didn't do as well as she'd hoped: Score one for honesty, conservatives!)
Tim Groseclose's political quotient test was covered in the podcast as part of the findings that -- surprise! -- media have a point of view! And it comes through in their writing and coverage choices! Tim Groseclose is a conservative political scientist who concluded not only that there is a liberal media bias, but also that the liberal media bias pulls the public to a more liberal perspective.
As Tim Groseclose sees it -- his findings being complicated to explain -- there is a spectrum of political beliefs, from 0 (conservative) to 100 (liberal.) On that spectrum, Obama scores about an 88, while Michele Bachmann is (no lie) -4.1. (Other scores are here.) According to Grossman, the average American is somewhere on the underside of 50 -- conservative territory -- but that the liberal bias in the media pulls them upward, making them more liberal than they would otherwise be.
As he said on Freakonomics, America would be more Texas, or even Kentucky, if not for the liberal media.
I'll give a moment for the dry heaves to subside.
Before getting on to the political quotient part, let's consider what that says about what Tim Groseclose thinks about Americans and their intelligence. And let's assume that Tim Groseclose is correct: that you, Average American, are about a 40 or so on the conservative scale. But you, Average American, read liberal media and all their high-falutin' East Coast thoughts about people not dying in the streets for lack of insurance, or how wrong it is to discriminate against people based on sexual preference.
According to Tim Groseclose, you would be against those things if you didn't read the newspapers, but after you peruse a copy of the New York Times while waiting for the bus, you're firmly in the camp of people who want to let everyone marry their endtable.
What does Tim Groseclose, conservative, say about you in that scenario? Tim Groseclose, being conservative, thinks those liberal ideas are wrong, remember: Tim Groseclose (presumably, I don't know for sure) thinks that taxing millionaires is wrong and Medicare should be Ol' Yellered. If you read liberal media and become convinced otherwise, and if Tim Groseclose is right that those programs are bad...
Then Tim Groseclose is saying you are stupid.
Tim Groseclose thinks Average Americans are stupid -- a belief held by most conservatives who claim there is a liberal media bias: A media bias can only convince you if you are convinceable, after all. I'm firmly of the mind, for example, that dark matter is bunk foisted off on us by scientists. I've read plenty of articles about dark matter, and I remain unconvinced. There is a pro-dark-matter bias in the media, and I am unconvinced.
So people that complain of a liberal media bias are first saying you're easy to convince -- but worse, they're saying you're easy to convince about bad ideas. If Medicare (or dark matter) is a bad idea, and you fall for it just because the New York Times talked about how Obama plans to infuse dark matter into Medicare to save the program, then you are gullible.
Is what Tim Groseclose is saying.
That's the bigger story that Freakonomics missed or ignored: There is of course bias in all media, and unavoidable bias that comes from the fact that everyone involved in the process, from politician who gets quoted to reporter who chose the politician to talk to to copy editor who deleted one quote but not another to editor who ran one story but not another to purchaser who bought one paper but not another... has a bias.
But whether that bias harms or helps or is useless is another story -- and what people believe about the bias is a third story.
Believing that the bias affects the minds of readers is a belief that readers are easily swayed by bad ideas, a paternalistic, diminishing view of voters and citizens: they will believe anything you tell them, so you'd best tell them good stuff-- that explains why FOX News exists.
There's another explanation, of course: Maybe it's not that you're gullible and stupid. Maybe you're convinced by the liberal media that these ideas are good because... these ideas are good.
Groseclose didn't talk about that. I wonder why?