Asymmetry in Political Bias

Tyler Cowen points to an article by Riccardo Puglisi, who writes:


Controlling for the activity of the incumbent president and the U.S. Congress across issues, I find that during a presidential campaign, The New York Times gives more emphasis to topics on which the Democratic party is perceived as more competent (civil rights, health care, labor and social welfare) when the incumbent president is a Republican. This is consistent with the hypothesis that The New York Times has a Democratic partisanship, with some “anti-incumbent” aspects . . . consistent with The New York Times departing from demand-driven news coverage.

I haven’t read the article in the question but the claim seems plausible to me. I’ve often thought there is an asymmetry in media bias, with Democratic reporters—a survey a few years ago found that twice as many journalists identify as Democrats than as Republicans—biasing their reporting by choosing which topics to focus on, and Republican news organizations (notably Fox News and other Murdoch organizations) biasing in the other direction by flat-out attacks.

I’ve never been clear on which sort of bias is more effective. On one hand, Fox can create a media buzz out of nothing at all; on the other hand, perhaps there’s something more insidious about objective news organizations indirectly creating bias by their choice of what to report.

But I’ve long thought that this asymmetry should inform how media bias is studied. It can’t be a simple matter of counting stories or references to experts and saying that Fox is more biased or the Washington Post is more biases or whatever. Some of the previous studies in this area are interesting but to me don’t get at either of the fundamental sorts of bias mentioned above. You have to look for bias in different ways to capture these multiple dimensions. Based on the abstract quoted above, Puglisi may be on to something, maybe this could be a useful start to getting to the big picture.

6 Responses to Asymmetry in Political Bias

  1. chris April 28, 2011 at 9:13 am #

    with Democratic reporters–a survey a few years ago found that twice as many journalists identify as Democrats than as Republicans–biasing their reporting by choosing which topics to focus on

    Do reporters really have a free choice of which topics to focus on? I thought they were told which topics to focus on by editors, possibly under pressure from advertisers or owners, and if they write the wrong articles those articles don’t make it onto visible pages, and if they keep it up they’re fired.

    This is not to say that the NYT doesn’t have a partisan lean — maybe it does — but ISTM that looking at the reporters is looking in the wrong place, if they’re not the ones genuinely calling the shots.

  2. Andrew Gelman April 28, 2011 at 9:58 am #

    Chris:

    I suspect the NYT editors lean left too.

  3. Ronan April 28, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    I’ve just read the abstract, but it isn’t clear to me why this “partisanship bias” would only appear when there is a Republican incumbent, if there is always a perceived Democratic advantage in competency in these issues. Why not exploit this perception bias when there is a Democratic incumbent? And if there is a perception of Democratic competency in these issues, why has there been a general trend of labor and social welfare retraction over the past few decades? If the empirical results Puglisi reports are true, isn’t it more probable that during Republican presidencies, there is more likely to have been policy decisions that negatively affect civil rights, health care, social welfare, and labor, and that is why the New York Times is reporting on it? And why base the standard of “demand driven” article selection on Gallup polls, when the average New York Times reader is not the average Gallup poll respondent?

  4. Joel April 28, 2011 at 1:24 pm #

    why would a bias on the part of the Times necessarily indicates this:

    “consistent with The New York Times departing from demand-driven news coverage.”

    based on what i know of their readership, this bias is very plausibly demand-driven.

  5. PM April 28, 2011 at 9:56 pm #

    I object to the sexist use of the word “pussy.”

    I am dismayed that political scientists would resort to using such a word, with no objections from anyone else.

  6. PM April 28, 2011 at 9:57 pm #

    I object to the sexist use of the word “pussy.”

    I am dismayed that political scientists would resort to using such a word, with no objections from anyone else.