Campaigns and elections

Over-the-top claims about politics: one more time

Andrew Gelman Sep 13 '12

I’d like to see Paul Krugman’s evidence for this claim:

What really happened in the final months of [the 2000] election? The answer — not a popular one with journalists, but very obviously true to anyone who lived through it — was that the press took sides. Reporters liked Bush and didn’t like Gore, and as a result they treated Bush with kid gloves while gleefully passing on every smear against his opponent.

Far be it from me to question something that was “obviously true to anyone who lived through it”–as a non-T.V. owner, I think it’s safe to say that I did not actually live through the 2000 election campaign–but . . . really??? Even if it’s true that reporters liked Bush and didn’t like Gore (again, I’d like to see the evidence [added later: see comments and my P.P.S. and P.P.P.S. below!]), one thing we do know is that twice as many journalists are Democrats as Republicans. At least, that’s what was found in this survey:

Weaver, D., R. Beam, B. Brownlee, P. S. Voakes, and G. C. Wilhoit. 2003. The American Journalist Survey. Indiana University School of Journalism.

P.S. Coincidentally, I found this the same day I bashed Niall Ferguson for garbling political science research. Or maybe it wasn’t a coincidence. I wasn’t going around searching for more examples of academics going too far in their political analyses, but it might be that writing the Ferguson blog got me attuned to the problem.

P.P.S. In a comment, John Sides refers to research that found that the news media were indeed amplifying negative stories about Gore. So, even though I still don’t see the evidence for Krugman’s claim that “Reporters liked Bush and didn’t like Gore,” it does appear that the news media had some effect on perceptions of Gore’s integrity.

P.P.P.S. Maybe the zillion commenters who disagree with me here have a point! I still find it a bit of a stretch for people to claim that reporters’ personal likes/dislikes would have more of an effect on coverage than reporters’ ideologies and partisanship, but I can see the reasoning, which I think roughly goes like this: journalists are trained to not let their partisanship get in the way of their reporting, but they don’t have that same constraint with respect to personal like/dislike. Thus a liberal Democratic reporter who personally liked Bush and disliked Gore might slant the news toward Bush and even feel good about such a slant in that it represents a bending-over-backwards to not simply follow the partisan cue.

As noted, I remain skeptical of this story—I’d think that, when it comes to a national election, partisanship would trump personality—but it is a coherent argument, supported by data. Which satisfies the request, posed at the top of this post: “I’d like to see Paul Krugman’s evidence for this.”

So . . . thanks, commenters!